[This story contains spoilers for They/Them.]
In John Logan’s directorial debut, Peacock summer camp slasher she shea group of LGBTQ youth find themselves in a conversion therapy camp—places banned in many US states that claim to be able to “change,” “fix,” or even “cure” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Run by Kevin Bacon’s Owen Whistler and designed to look like a quintessential summer camp, Whistler entices campers with a sense of confidence with an oddly warm, inclusive, and non-threatening welcome before witnessing the violent and discriminatory torture of him and his family on the group. All there for different reasons, the group must work together to survive the psychological and physical abuse they experience.
But as the campers battle a variety of queerphobic and transphobic camp counselors — including members of their own communities — they soon discover another threat lurking between them in the woods, and in a twist, those running the camp find they have it. be wrong. end of the blade.
The movie – among a healthy amount of inclusive horror titles released in August along with no, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Prey and The invitation — examines how the historical, social and cultural treatment of marginalized identities can fuel today’s nightmarish realities. It also features a leading LGBTQ+ cast and ensemble, with Theo Germaine (the politician, Work in progress) starring one of the central campers and heroes, Jordan Lewis.
Prior to the film’s release, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to the she she star on the layers behind the film’s title, how the film fits into the history of queer horror, collaborating with Kevin Bacon and that musical series from Pink.
They cut them is the title and it’s really witty before you see the movie, but super layered after you finish it. What do you think it says in terms of your character Jordan but also the bigger story?
If we talk specifically about the character, Jordan, and the trajectory they experience and go through during the film, they start themselves. They show up in this conversion therapy camp as a very hyper-independent, you know, pretty traumatized person who thinks very much, I’m going to have to get through this myself, and that’s how they’ve always gotten through things. There’s a lot of support they don’t get at home, so there’s a lot of strength they’ve had to build up in themselves. So in that regard, at the beginning of the movie, it’s them – a singular she, Jordan alone. At the end of the film, because of all the experiences that arise, Jordan experiences this sense of community and camaraderie with all these other campers that they really didn’t expect to feel. So that reminds me of them. Jordan starts out alone and by the end they understand the importance of the community, especially the LGBTQ community. They’re really starting to find community, something they didn’t have yet because of their background and where they came from.
Otherwise, I just love that it’s a play on words. I love that it’s “they cut them.” I think that’s really funny. It’s also a bit thought-provoking. Even if there are people who say, “No, I don’t think they – those pronouns are real” – which they are – I’d like to think that even those people would be like, “I need to see what this movie is about. What’s up with this title?” Then I would hope that if they did, they would be inspired to be better people and be more accepting when they see the movie, because of the severity of the gay anxiety and the effects of conversion therapy.I also liked that it’s kind of a throwback to other horror movies in movie history. It reminds me of the movie They live and this really old movie is called Them that’s about gigantic bugs. Using “they slash them” as a title also undermines the way “them” was used in earlier times, namely to describe a monster, or an unknown, or something really scary. It’s basically just this person using these pronouns and that’s it.
Queerness has a long history of hideous research – mainstream, independent, both textual and subtextual. How do you think this film expands on that existing canon?
This movie really feels like it’s kind of standalone in a way, and it feels like it’s a new foray or exploration into how we do good on-screen rendering. You really see the humanity in all these characters, these campers. I feel like all the people who suffer and struggle are really portrayed in a positive light, but it doesn’t feel like it’s two-dimensional. As someone who has consumed a lot of media, I really liked that Jordan becomes the hero. I really like that there are characters that are queer who are in denial at the beginning of the movie and are really interested in changing who they are because they don’t think it’s OK. And then they might feel different by the time the movie is over. I really appreciate the way all these characters survive during the movie. It doesn’t feel like anyone is being sacrificed, which I think is some sort of horror device.
There are also a lot of tropes that happen in horror, and it’s like if this happens in a movie, this character is likely to die. If they break up, this person is likely to die. All these tropes are addressed in this film, almost in an exploratory or academic way. Because the director, John Logan, is a true horror enthusiast. He takes all these tropes and then he’s like flip, flip, flip – he flips everything. The result is a weird ghostly, kind of beautiful thing on the screen that I’ve really never seen before. Another thing that I think makes the movie stand out on its own and that I hope will be an inspiration for future movies is that a bunch of queer people make a movie – even if it’s something more on the area of heteronormativity — and involving queer and trans crew members and actors and creators.
At some point, viewers discover that the people who work there are former campers, which is his own conversation about the ways people can internalize the bigotry exercised against them. What do you think the movie says with the villains who are both heterosexual cisgender people and members of the LGBTQ community?
It reminds me of the word “denial” and how many people identify as ex-gays, or how many closet gays were actually a big part of many of these conversion therapy movements. It’s as if we deny ourselves who we are, we deny ourselves our truth and we can become perpetrators of the violence that happens against us all. So there are some moments in the movie that immediately remind me of a lot of the media I was consuming in preparation for this movie. I’ve seen a lot of interviews with people who came out later in life and who, before that happened, were really involved in the anti-gay, anti-LGBTQ movement. Some people get so conditioned not to approve of who they are that it can really turn you into a bad guy if you don’t deal with your shit. That idea is reflected in the film in several ways. It also goes to show that if you are perpetuating so much disagreement and chaos by not being able to accept who you are, then maybe there is a responsibility you have to take for committing those actions. It’s definitely a pure empowerment movie, where there’s a lot to survive.
You played opposite Kevin Bacon in this, which is kind of fun considering he started out with horror early in his career. What was it like to face him?
I had a very, very pleasant experience working with Kevin. I would work with him again in a heartbeat. It’s really nice to work with him. He is so talented. He’s such a veteran of the screen. He has done so many different things. He makes a terrifying villain. It was also funny because I’d never met him before, I was a bit starstruck and I had to play that I wasn’t intimidated or afraid of him. But in real life I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m working with him. This is such a big deal for me.” I was a really big fan of a lot of his work growing up, from footloose until balto until Superficial man until vibrations. Even much of his work is more recent. There are too many movies to count, but I’ve seen a lot of things he’s done and I had a great experience watching him. It was truly a masterclass, the privilege of working with someone who has literally been involved in film since the 1970s. I just wanted to be a sponge. I just wanted to suck up everything I can. He’s also just a really cool, laid-back guy. He has goats. I don’t know if you know that, but he has goats on a farm. He sometimes plays music for his goats. It’s on his TikTok or his Instagram.
These characters are in a talk therapy camp, but in some ways – and in some really moving moments – it feels more like a regular summer camp where people can be safe. Did it have that summer camp vibe on set?
I grew up in a very, very small town in central Illinois and there was a summer camp that I went to and I worked as a camp counselor for a year. I was the youngest camp counselor on the entire list of counselors, and they called me the super counselor because I was really concerned that all the kids were okay. So, with so much experience of being at summer camp, I felt like I was right at home when I got started and the bonding just happened pretty quickly that way. Everyone just started hanging out and started getting close very quickly. There was a lot of fun on set, there were a lot of things we did when we weren’t on set. We were supposed to go get an ice cream together, I went an ax throwing one with some of the cast members. We want to see a movie at the drive thru and it was summer and it was hot. You know, it really had that real summer camp magic. It happens, then it passes so quickly. If I could work in that camp again, or make another film like that, it would be really, really nice. Because the atmosphere and the camaraderie is really exciting.
There’s a moment in the movie when it might feel most like a teen summer camp and it’s that pink musical sequence. It’s so tonally different from much of the rest of the film. What was it like filming that?
That was honestly the hardest for me. I took it very seriously. I was like, I want everything to be okay. If there is choreography, I want to do it right. It was John who reminded me that I was taking it a little too seriously. He also said, “I see you want to do a really good job.” Making music together, singing with other people, it just evokes all your emotions in such a positive way. The day we filmed, I was so emotional even though I was nervous about it. If you just dance with people and jump on the beds, and everyone is standing in a circle, yelling in each other’s faces and everyone is laughing – that’s really magical. It’s really healing. And that part of the movie is so different from the rest of the movie. I feel like it’s a weird thing that stands out above the rest of the plot – that almost feels like a dream sequence or something. There were seven of us and then it was the seven background campers, so it was a total of 14 queer people. I didn’t know if I’d like that part when I saw the movie, but I thought, “I feel really inspired.”
she she is now streaming on Peacock.