Writer/director John Logan’s engrossing feature debut They/Them is essentially queer One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest dressed in slasher movie drag. At night on a dark road in the woods, a butch presenting woman (Brooke Jaye Taylor) has a tire blowout. She finds spikes in the road, and soon a masked killer is chopping her up with an axe. Down the road a spell, dear old Camp Whistler has been squeezing the queer outta kids for decades, but this is a conversion for a new century.
The teens dropped off by the bus hear about a kinder, gentler conversion from program leader Owen (Kevin Bacon). He then introduces the staff, which consists of his wife, Dr. Molly (Anna Chlumsky), camp nurse Cora (Carrie Preston), Sarah (Hayley Griffith), and Zane (Boone Platt). The last two are former campers who married each other and now work there as counselors. Owen says he and the camp workers aren’t there to condemn any preferences, and they are also not going to be mentioning religion at all. Instead, Owen explains the camp is going to allow the subjects to explore a possible compromise to their behavior that would be more acceptable to the families who sent them there.
“…Camp Whistler has been squeezing the queer outta kids for decades…[a] masked figure shows up…”
As Jordan (Theo Germaine), a trans-non-binary, tells another camper, the whole thing would be easier to figure out if there was more blatant homophobia and bible-thumping. Jordan is sent to the boys’ cabin with Stu (Cooper Koch), Toby (Austin Crute), and Gabriel (Darwin del Fabro), while Kim (Anna Lore), Alexandra (Quei Tann), and Veronica (Monique Kim) are put in the girls’ cabin. It doesn’t take long for the underlying meanness of the program to start rising, with Jordan standing up the most to the cruel tactics. However, as things start getting really out of control, the masked figure shows up and starts chopping people down.
I was looking forward to They/Them as soon as it was announced, as I was one of the weirdos in the theater opening weekend for But I’m a Cheerleader. The notion of a conversion camp-slasher combo seemed ripe with opportunities for commentary and allegory. It would have been easy to make a typical slasher with queer characters in the body count slots. However, Logan has given us something much more ambitious and accomplished.
"…highlights the hypocrisy of converted homosexuals who have mastered traditional hetero behavior..."