When a group of queer youth arrive at Whistler Camp, a secluded conversion-therapy site tucked deep in the woods, it’s quickly revealed to be hell on Earth—in more ways than one. In addition to the horrendous treatment they experience at the hands of their counselors (including actors Kevin Bacon and Anna Chlumsky), they’re also faced with a masked murderer who picks people off, one by one.
Award-winning screenwriter John Logan (whose screenplays include The Aviator, Gladiator, and Skyfall) makes his directorial debut with a new take on the horror genre. The psychological thriller THEY/THEM (pronounced They Slash Them) will premiere exclusively on Peacock on Friday, August 5. Logan sat down with OutSmart to chat about his film.
The original setting for THEY/THEM was not a conversion camp, Logan explains. “It started with wanting to write something about horror and gender. Horror cinema has a really complicated relationship with gender and sexual identification. When I was growing up, queer characters mostly didn’t exist on screen. If they were in horror movies, they were victims, jokes, or killers, but they were never the hero. There was never a queer character you rooted for.”
Longing for the film he wished he’d had as a kid, Logan put pen to paper. “When COVID happened, every writer I know (including myself) suddenly had a chance to write something for ourselves, from the heart. I had met some kids who had gone through conversion therapy in the past, and their stories about what that experience was like really stayed with me. It seemed very natural to me to write a movie where the greatest horror isn’t necessarily the masked killer, but what’s going on in the conversion camp.”
In addition to writing the film, Logan directs and executive-produces THEY/THEM, steering the ship as he taps into his favorite film genre. “I could have written a very serious indie movie on this subject, but I’m a popular writer. That’s what I do,” he adds. “I want to write for (and appeal to) audiences, and I love horror movies. I take every trope of the slasher movie—from it being set in a camp in the dark woods to having a killer with the mask—and use all of those parts and subvert it in an interesting way to tell a story that is about queer empowerment in, of all things, a slasher movie!”
Authenticity is the name of the game for Logan, as THEY/THEM features an LGBTQ cast depicting all of the queer characters in the film. “It’s a movie about the power of belief in yourself, protecting your identity, and proclaiming who you are with glory. It was important to me that those seven actors could embody that. I wanted LGBTQ+ actors who were associated in some way with those roles.”
An exhaustive casting search ultimately led to some on-screen magic. “The actors were incredibly generous and straightforward with me, talking about language, issues, and things they had experienced that were either like the character or unlike the character,” Logan says. “It was joyous to watch on set, because they were so proud of the story they got to tell. I think that comes through in the movie.”
Logan doesn’t shy away from scenes that are oftentimes erased from cinema. “We’ve had 100 years of straight sex in mainstream movies, so it’s about damn time we embrace the joy of queer sex in a mainstream movie.”
The gay creator even adds an unexpected musical moment in the film. “At an important point in the movie, we do a proper song-and-dance number, partly because I’m a show queen and I own that. But more importantly, ‘Jordan,’ our hero, is at a very low point. They have to rediscover their pride and their power. Pink’s song ‘F’ing Perfect’ was the song to do that with, and I know how much it would have meant to me when I was a kid to hear someone tell me I was perfect just the way I was.” He adds, “That was the best day on the set, because I got to be Martin Scorsese and Bob Fosse on the same day!”
With his proven ability to create spaces that keep viewers entertained and engaged, Logan set out to create a thought-provoking film that also sends a message. “The movie fails utterly if it is not emotional. If you just want to have a sensation of ‘Oh, I had a good scare,’ then go take a roller-coaster ride. That’s not art,” he emphasizes. “What cinema can do is give you characters you fall in love with, that you can’t help rooting for. My (and everyone’s) intention was to try to make a moving human story within the shell of this incredibly entertaining horror movie.”
THEY/THEM premieres August 5 exclusively on Peacock. For more info, visit peacocktv.com.
This article appears in the August 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.