By Melissa Braine, Third Year, English
The anticipated Peacock original They/Them was released on the streaming service on August 5th, following a group of LGBTQ+ youth and their harrowing experience at Whistler’s Conversion Camp. The multi-genre film has been marketed as revenge, horror, slasher, and psychological but is most importantly stated to be a ‘nightmarish thriller [...] a story about LGBTQ+ empowerment’ (Kevin Bacon on Instagram).
Succeeding an ominous opening scene that introduces the masked slasher, a group of individualistic LGBTQ+ teenagers arrive at Whistler’s Conversion Camp. Immediately we are convinced by the camp’s director, Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon), that this is not a conversion camp in the vein of many LGBTQ+ experiences.
In fact, Whistler claims to aid in finding one’s authentic self and rejects pushing a straight identity under the name of God by ‘using the language of the angels to serve the devil’ (John Logan to MovieMaker). Knowing the truly horrific nature of conversion camps brings the unsettling question: what are they hiding?
Although, at first, Whistler’s carefully crafted speech and introductions seem incontestable, the slow unfolding of the true manipulative and torturous nature of the camp cuts deeper once the trust of the students has been earned. The staff members begin to reflect the students’ inner fears and conflicting identities, using this to their advantage.
After discovering unsettling images of past students and undergoing a series of intensifying activities that focus on expressing traditional gender norms, the students begin to conspire against the camp and collectively sense the mandate is not as righteous as it is made out to be.
Amidst the students’ attempt to leave the camp, the slasher finally returns to make their attacks after a lengthy amount of foreshadowing. The revengeful slasher is eventually de-masked, and the face behind the few murders is unfortunately not overly shocking.
For a film marketed as a horror, it is not full of guts and gore or any nail-biting jump scares. Tension is mainly built to emphasise the horrors of LGBTQ+ internal and external struggles, rather than a horror film that is fictionalised using the conventions of the supernatural and otherworldly.
The true horror of this film comes from knowing this is representative of the real LGBTQ+ experience. Is it truly horrific to watch 'the bad guys', who are the victims, fall under the hands of justice?
Refreshingly, compensation is granted to the characters we are rooting for. Where horror can be found then, is in the definitively gruesome and unlawful way this justice is brought into fruition.
Empowerment arises from the supportive community built amongst the students and the very passionate slasher ally. Sensitive topics of prejudice against gender and sexual identities are covered with a level of care by first-time horror screenplay and director John Logan, and the film empowers through its powerful casting.
It is rare to see LGBTQ+ characters played by actors and actresses who share the same identity, but They/Them makes a refreshing effort to turn this around. Starring LGBTQ+ actors and actresses, including Theo Germaine as sharp-witted non-binary character Jordan, Quei Tann as the powerful black transgender woman Alexandra, Austin Crute as the stylish and comedic gay character Toby, and Monique Kim as charming bisexual character Veronica. Each performer gives a captivating and strong portrayal that holds weight in its authenticity.
With the main soundtrack being a cast sing-song of Fuckin’ Perfect by P!nk, this is not your normal horror film. It is cheesy yet liberating, with beautiful yet gloomy scenery. It is a horror riddled with hope and redress.
If you’re looking for a spooky night in with popcorn and a blood-curdling horror film, you may be disappointed with this choice. Nonetheless, this is a significant start for LGBTQ+ representation in a genre that historically eliminates these characters.
Featured Image: IMDB
What do you think of They/Them's irreverent take on the slasher genre?