John Logan and the Cast of They/Them Discuss Queer Horror
They/Them is a pretty unique and bold film to hit the mainstream through organizations as big as Peacock and Blumhouse Productions, but the pedigrees of its creative cast and crew attests to its legitimacy as a big movie. Writer John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Skyfall, Spectre) steps behind the director’s chair for the first time with the feature film, which stars Anna Chlumsky (My Girl, Veep, Inventing Anna), Carrie Preston (The Good Wife, True Blood, Person of Interest), Theo Germaine (The Politician, Work in Progress), and Kevin Bacon (enough said), so it’s obvious how much talent’s at play here.
Additionally, this excellent cast and crew tackle a topical tale that’s a clever appropriation of classic horror tropes in service of an LGBTQ+ narrative which is simultaneously powerful and fun. A Peacock original movie, They/Them follows a group of teenagers who are sent to the archetypal summer camp of many teen horror movies, except this one is a ‘gay conversion’ camp run by Kevin Bacon with a murderous slasher on the loose. The narrative is enhanced by an LGBTQ+ ensemble cast along with other great young actors, including Germaine, Monique Kim, Austin Crute, Monique Kim, Cooper Koch, Darwin del Fabro, Anna Lore, and Scott Turner Schofield, all of whom spoke with MovieWeb alongside Bacon, Preston, and Logan about the film.
John Logan on the Queer Theory of Horror
Logan, who has been nominated for three Oscars and is beloved for writing Sweeney Todd, The Last Samurai, and Hugo, has been returning to his horror roots with They/Them and his TV show Peaky Blinders, and he finds a lot of connection between the horror genre and the queer experience. “Even as a kid when I was six, I’d be watching Dracula, Frankenstein, or The Wolf Man on an old black and white TV,” said Logan. He continued:
There was something that spoke to me about it, and a lot of queer theory will say that the reason queer people are sometimes drawn to horror is because it embraces the idea of the other, the outcast. And many people feel like that they are different, they feel like monsters, they feel not accepted by society. I certainly didn’t when I was a kid. And so I’ve always had a really sort of tender responsiveness to horror, but horror has a really complicated relationship with gender and sexual identity and always has, and when I was growing up, queer characters were mostly invisible. If they did exist, even in a coded way, they were villains, or they were jokes, or they were victims. They were never the hero, and that always bothered me.
“When I had a chance to write something really from my heart,” Logan says, “I wanted to write something specifically about horror and gender that would celebrate queerness, that would celebrate gay people, because it’s something I never saw. And when I was 12, it would have meant the world to me to have someone in a horror movie say [to me] ‘you’re effing perfect just the way you are.’ So that was the genesis of the whole thing.”
They/Them is a Personal Movie For Logan
“It’s very personal, it’s the movie I so desperately wanted to see when I was 14, that would celebrate a gay kid as the hero,” Logan explained, “and so I was very tender about the characters and very protective of it.” Since They/Them is such a personal movie for the writer/director, it only makes sense that he positioned it within the horror genre that he loves, specifically one of the trashier subgenres. “You take all the tropes of the traditional slasher movie, the most reviled form of cinema ever, and you turn them on their head,” Logan said of the process, elaborating:
So we have the camp in the middle of the dark woods. We have a masked killer, and instead of victimizing or dehumanizing your heroes, it’s actually allowing them to triumph and become heroes, so I tried to use every single piece of slasher summer camp movies and the iconography to make a completely subversive story […] with these beautiful, unique, idiosyncratic queer youth.
Austin Crute, Scott Turner Schofield, and Theo Germaine on They/Them
That queer youth comprises a great majority of the film, a wide ensemble cast of characters who are each individually fleshed out but could also be the killer. Some of them identify as LGBTQ+ actors, but regardless if that’s the case, each of them recognized something important and relatable in their characters. Several of the actors spoke to MovieWeb about the way they felt represented, and how their characters (all teenagers begrudgingly arriving at the ‘gay conversion’ camp, yet each distinctly developed) seemed true to themselves. “I think this movie is a great love letter to the community,” Crute said, “but then also, I just felt seen, like really seen.”
“I’m really excited about how They/Them does several different things,” said Germaine. “It feels like this really cool academic document that explores what you can do in horror and how you can reference things in the past and how you can present new ideas that maybe other people will reference in the future. Germaine continued:
I felt very empowered when I watched the film, because it’s so much about survival. It’s so much about being yourself. It’s so much about not letting people tell you who you are, and that message I think is so important, especially for today. Also, I like the way that it’s scary at the same time; it takes the fear that we experience when people try to change who we are really seriously, and doesn’t make light of it. And you can feel that emotionally through the film.
“I’m excited because this film isn’t just like a ‘subject’ film. It’s an allegory,” said Schofield. “So I’m excited for everyone to see They/Them and to recognize the way that the world is like this camp and to reflect on that, the way that horror really helps people understand social issues better. I believe it’s going to do that, and I hope that it does, but also I hope it’s instructive for Hollywood, because in the past, a film about LGBTQ issues starring out LGBTQ stars would have been considered a liability for something like NBCU Peacock, and instead now they’re like, ‘No, this is why we’re bringing it on.’ So just the existence of this film itself, I hope that it instructs Hollywood that queer films do have universal power and can be universally successful.”
Anna Lore, Monique Kim, Cooper Koch, and Darwin del Fabro on They/Them
A film that really celebrates difference and individuality like They/Them fittingly has a wide range of personalities in it, a great spectrum of young talent who in turn appeal to a range of viewers. “It represents all us ‘queerdos,’ said Koch with a smile, “and hopefully people will walk away from it feeling like they can be who they are and be happy with and love themselves, because that’s what it’s really about: queer empowerment told through a really fun, exciting, horrific lens.”
“I wish we had more queer protagonists,” said del Fabro, “that we care for, that we’re scared with, and I think They/Them does that […] Being celebrated here and bringing the uniqueness of each of us is something very important that we haven’t seen much, and when we had a chance with the team of John Logan, Blumhouse, and Peacock willing to celebrate that, it’s just very moving.”
“And for the non-queer community watching this,” Kim clarified, “hopefully this movie creates a new sense of empathy towards our community, and hopefully, if they aren’t already there, to become allies in our fight.” That’s one of the clever things about They/Them, how it injects very important and progressive messaging into what is ostensibly a mainstream subgenre. “I hope that people both enjoy the film as like the classic slasher horror that it is,” said Lore, “as well as walk away with an awareness of conversion therapy, and the fact that it is still legal in more than half of the states.” Lore elaborated:
The statistic that really struck me about it was that kids who go through conversion therapy have more than double the rate of attempted suicides. So it is a dark topic, and we’re lucky to be able to explore it through this amazing script and highlight these queer characters. And they are the heroes of the story! I think that’s so cool. It was really important for all of us to get to show that and to have great representation on screen.
Carrie Preston and Kevin Bacon Are Counselors in They/Them
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Bacon and Preston play the husband-and-wife counselors of the camp, Owen and Cora Whistler, who initially come across as surprisingly friendly and open-minded but who obviously stand by their ‘gay conversion’ claims. They’re complicated characters, with an interesting mix of authority, charm, sadness, and malice, and the legendary actors bring great gravitas to what is a smaller project than they’re likely used to.
“The script was brilliant,” Preston said frankly, “and the message that he was using with this genre to bring to light the real-life horrors of gay conversion and what they’ve been calling a ‘queer fear.’ I wanted to be a part of that, and it didn’t matter what the role was, and it turns out it was quite an interesting, complicated, and terrifying role that I was very blessed to be trusted with. Preston continued:
I don’t usually play a lot of the ‘bad guys’ or the villains or whatever. So I was actually looking forward to that, but there are a couple of things that I have to say in this film that really shocked me when I read them on the page. And I thought, it’s not for me to judge, you know, this is a story, and it needs this character to make its point […] I think Cora thinks that she’s saving these young people from a terrible life ahead of them. I think that’s what she really feels, that she’s doing something good.
Bacon agreed, saying, “I think that people who have chosen to convert somebody’s identity or sexuality, I think they’re obviously working from some kind of point of personal fear, to the extent that they’re so terrified of either whatever’s going on inside themselves, or what someone else has told them about whatever it happens to be, the world, or politics, or religion, or whatever. That they have to try to force something on other people, that usually comes from a very specific kind of place of fear. So that’s what I tried to tap into with this guy.” Bacon’s incredible performance truly takes They/Them to another level.
The result is a refreshing take on the slasher genre, a clever deconstruction that is certainly important for certain groups. “It’s a really necessary moment,” said Logan, “because our civil rights and human rights are being attacked. As queer people, to be able to tell a story that celebrates the uniqueness and the power and the glory of queer individuals, I think it’s super important.”
They/Them is a Peacock Original Film produced by Jason Blum and Michael Aguilar; it premiered July 24th at Outfest and will be available for streaming on Peacock starting Aug. 5th.