Is They/Them a good movie?
This is my first YouTube video posted to my channel A Killing Jar. In it, I review the movie they/them spoiler-free and make some connections to the history of queer horror.
Gay horror is still so rare that a lot of people are cautious when one comes around that is AS blatantly gay-themed as They Slash Them. As outwardly queer as they slash them was Netflix’s 2021 three-part Fear Street, which portrayed two queer characters as the linchpins of the franchise.
Despite the gay leads in parts one and three, I personally preferred Sadie Sink led Fear Street Part Two better than either of the queer-character led installments, which I felt was such a shame given the three-part format and the weekly release schedule Netflix employed to kickstart this franchise.
Part Two found Sadie Sink’s character Ziggy headlining in 1978. Like they Slash them, Fear Street 1978 gave us traditional summer camp shenanigans that harkened back to inspirations like Sleepaway Camp or Friday the 13th. These kinds of stories tend to focus on more mature characters, such as the camp employees, who sinfully indulge in more mature behavior that gives way to their ultimate demise, and they follow a long history of American urban legends – and some real world horror, too, such as in 1977 when three Girl Scouts at Camp Scott in Mayes County, Oklahoma were murdered by an escaped convict. It sounds made up, I know.
Sinful / mature behavior – sounds like how our society has viewed queer people to me. A slasher film as an allegory to homophobia seems like such an obvious idea in retrospect. Spoilers, that’s not what we got from they slash them, and it’s a shame.
It’s understandable that a conversion camp for queer teens would make for a terrifying modern-day follow up to the camp trope, in which the students are already on edge because of the central conceit of being straightened out. Conversion Camps and the like have been strong reminders of what queer people face, both in media and in real life. Gay Cinema is historically obsessed with telling stories of our trauma, especially those of gay, white men.
Despite the prevalence of queer subtext in horror films like that in Nightmare on Elm Street Two Freddie’s revenge or the craft, few of the movies center around conversion camps have been funneled through the actual horror genre due to the genre’s overall dismissiveness of queer characters, and instead focus on the true horror of the process within the drama or comedic genres.
Which is kind of wild if you consider the amount of real world trauma queer people have gone through. That being said, it’s no surprise if you consider the treatment of people of color within the genre as well. In contrast, The final girl trope has always stood out in horror for the way it used the fears of women to craft narratives that often demonized their sexual or societal desires.
All of this is to say, If anyone understands true horror, it’s marginalized groups of people. Unfortunately for queer people, most of these allegories have had to remain subtext.
Nightmare on Elm Street II: Freddie’s Revenge is a cult classic in queer horror subtext. The plot literally revolves around Freddie trying to get into main character Jesse Walsh’s body. At one point, Jesse even winds up in a gay bar.
we should consider what differences would be made if Freddie’s Revenge had been out of the closet. A good comparison is 2021’s Chucky TV Series. No, seriously, stay with me. Chucky stars Zackary Arthur as Jake Wheeler, a confused spooky-gay teen who winds up in the crosshairs of everyone’s favorite killer cabbage patch doll. Helmed by out and proud Chucky originator Don Mancini, I could spend a lot of time talking about what I liked about this series – and spoilers, I probably will at some point. But What’s most important in comparing Chucky with Freddie’s Revenge, and how the two relate to They Slash Them, is how the central themes of being young and gay correlate to the villains of these stories.
Both Wheeler and Walsh personify two common themes of being young and queer: confusion and self-inflected frustration.
They slash them is a rarity for not only showcasing queer people, but specifically non-cis and non-gendered peoples. But how well does it showcase and utilize these characters?
From the moment I began watching the trailer for they slash them, however, I began to wonder if the movie was going to be more about buzzwords and what people think non conforming people are like, or if it was going to be a well told story that felt true to nonbinary people. I was worried that the movie would be given the CW or MTV scripted comedy version of queer identities. (And to be honest, looking back I don’t think I was wrong.)
Written and directed by openly gay John Logan, the film is his director debut, but Logan had worked on various movies and television shows ahead of they slash them. Unfortunately for Logan reviews have been generally less than favorable, but for a movie about queer people in a straight dominated genre, I don’t think anyone should hold reviews against him. For this reason, I went into they slash them hopefully optimistic. I will watch pretty much anything about queer people and rate it on a curve.
The biggest problem with they slash them is that they don’t slash any thems. Without spoiling the one and only twist, which is admittedly already badly done and obvious, only one person is killed in the first hour and 20 minutes aside from the cold open. In a movie about the horrors of gay conversion, the horrors are not heaped onto the campers.
I hesitate to call this a horror movie. This is a badly done drama with a pink musical break that tacks on some horror tv show elements in the last twenty minutes. It’s called they slash them but nobody is slashed for the majority of the film. And why is everyone singing that pink song?
This movie was written by a theater gay with no sense of horror pacing, and it was created to preach a message about acceptance to an audience that has already accepted themselves. Who else would be watching a movie about they/ thems? Who is this movie for?
That’s not to say there weren’t moments I enjoyed. But the problem is that for a movie that puts slasher genre front and center, it is disingenuous to then not be a true slasher film. To compare to Fear Street again, the central queer couple do not drone on about how great it is to be themselves or what it means to be queer. They’re busy stopping zombies or the souls of the damned or whatever.
Theo Germaine as Jordan Lewis deserved better. Theo served stoic they realness that carried the majority of the film, and their portrayal only faltered due to the over the top hamminess of the script. Had the film been an actual slasher film, they would have made the perfect final they.
Over all, I hope we can get to a place where queer people can show up in horror as more than just the funky best friend. The babadook can not be the only true horror film for the gays, and the alphabet mafia deserves to be in stories where they’re slaughtered, stalked, transformed, and haunted just like straight cis people.