Blumhouse’s new slasher They/Them (pronounced as “They Slash Them”) was a film I was very much anticipating for months after it was first announced. Throwback slashers are all the rage at present, with Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy and There’s Someone Inside Your House among the cream of the crop. They/Them manages to set itself apart from others by examining a culturally-relevant topic through an unusually specific lens. Marking Kevin Bacon’s return to summer-camp horror, writer/director John Logan tackles the scariest notion of all—a gay conversion camp. According to Whistler Camp, “gay people are a-ok!”
By now, hawk-eyed viewers will know what to expect from the slasher formula. Unsuspecting opening kill, introducing all the helpless victims, building up the body count to a suspenseful finale, and delivering shocking revelations leading up to a happy ending—this is the age-old way of the slasher. They/Them follows this well-travelled path by sliding in social commentary and chilling asides, packaged in a complete experience. At Whistler Camp, the motto is “Respect, Renew, Rejoice!”
Whistler Camp is meant to be a “safe space” for everyone up until they find “their own truth,” and hopefully decide to live a gender normative lifestyle. Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon, Friday the 13th, Footloose) and his wife, Cora (Carrie Preston, True Blood, Claws), are in charge, keeping up the facade that one’s time at Whistler will be a relatively carefree experience. A cute old hound dog named Duke, Balthazar (Mark Ashworth, Fear Street, Lawless) the handyman, new Nurse Molly (Anna Chlumsky, My Girl, Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain), Sarah (Hayley Griffith) the activities director, and Zane (Boone Platt, Animal Kingdom, The Gray Man) the athletics director will be vital to make Whistler feel just like home!
The newest crop of queer campers have just arrived, so what better time to dive headfirst into the nastiness of Whistler Camp? Leading the pack is hardened, take-no-shit Jordan (Theo Germaine, The Politician), who identifies as trans and non-binary. Other campers include repeatedly misgendered Alexandra (Quei Tann, How to Get Away with Murder), forced to go to the boy’s cabin once her genitals are observed in the shower; Broadway-obsessed Toby (Austin Crute, Booksmart, Daybreak); closeted Kim (Anna Lore, Faking It, All American), tired of pretending she’s straight in her day-to-day living; Veronica (Monique Kim, Look That Kill), a self-professed “bisexual freak” who has her eye set on Kim; hot jock swimmer Stu (Cooper Koch, Swallowed), seeking a scholarship and wanting to just pledge his father’s fraternity free of gay stigma; and Gabriel (Darwin del Fabro), anxious to find a way for people to stop calling him “fag.”
A selection of victims this wide-reaching should provide ample room for kills aplenty. Alas, all is not what it appears to be. I will say that what worked the best for me in They/Them is the subversion of slasher expectations. Thanks to the premise, I expected a completely different type of film than what Logan delivers, which is maybe the sharpest compliment one can pay towards a horror movie. As far as the trademark kills are concerned, They/Them feels a little bit watered down. Blood splatter aplenty reigns supreme, but I ultimately wanted more from this aspect. Deaths are a slasher’s bread and butter; as much as I love character development, I still want to see them punctuated with nasty kills. The killer’s garb—a strange stitched-together mask accompanied by a dark cloak—may not be the most original, but is properly creepy.
They/Them is a very different type of movie that will likely be divisive for general audiences. As it stands, the film delivers on hyper-sexual thrills and gay-conversion chills. Both Carrie Preston and Kevin Bacon, playing husband and wife for the second time in a year after Kyra Sedgwick’s fantastic Space Oddity, are each able to channel the eerie, off-putting vibe of their characters into scenes that rightly freaked me out. On the campers front, I really liked Jordan, Stu, and Kim, but had a hard time relating with some of the others. A defining moment utilizing Pink’s “Fuckin’ Perfect” was possibly my favorite sequence of the film, celebrating the love and camaraderie of chosen family. I’m not sure that writer/director John Logan completely nails the balance of conversion-horror juxtaposed against slasher-horror, but They/Them is nevertheless a fun, altogether singular experience from Blumhouse.
They/Them slices open expectations when it debuts exclusively to Peacock on Friday, August 5th.