Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
The title of this film is pronounced “They Slash Them.” It’s a pun on the idea of how members of the LGBTQ community state what pronouns should be used when referring to certain people, as well as a take on the idea of the horror films, commonly known as slasher flicks. When it comes to slasher flicks, Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) have set the template for the genre. Even before those films, the idea of centering LGBTQ themes or characters in a horror feature has been around and demonstrated in titles such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and Psycho (1960). Often though, the LGBTQ characters in such films are rendered as the villains. Egregious examples include Sleepaway Camp (1983) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). It’s rare that LGBTQ characters are depicted as the survivors or even the heroes of horror or slasher flicks. One early exception from a mainstream company was A Nightmare Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), and even that is disputed. The tide has started to turn somewhat with films, such as It Chapter Two (2019), The New Mutants (2020) and Nope (2022).
There have been a couple of independent, horror films where LGBTQ characters have been the survivors or the heroes. The most notable was Hellbent (2005). Television and streaming services have been better places for horror content with LGBTQ survivors or heroes. Spiral (2020) on Shudder is one example. Into the Dark: Midnight Kiss (2019) is another. One that’s more connected to what this film is doing is American Horror Story: 1984 (2019). Yet, this film does something different from those aforementioned productions. This film makes LGBTQ characters the protagonists, but it doesn’t make them the targets of physical violence, with one exception. Mainly, this film doesn’t victimize them with the slashing that is typical of this genre, which makes the title a bit misleading.
Theo Germaine (4400 and The Politician) stars as Jordan Lewis, a teenager who has been forced to attend Whistler Camp, a summer retreat that feels reminiscent of the one in Friday the 13th, a direct reference that is made here. Jordan isn’t there to have fun or relax in between school. Jordan is there because it’s conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is an attempt to change a person who is a sexual or gender minority or who could identify with the LGBTQ community into a person who is heterosexual and cisgender. It’s pseudo counseling to get a person from being gay to being straight or resist gender nonconforming behaviors.
In this case, Jordan is one such gender nonconforming person. Jordan is nonbinary. A nonbinary person is someone who either doesn’t identify with either the gender identity choices of masculine or feminine or the person identifies as both genders simultaneously. In some cases, the person can move back and forth between multiple genders. Often, nonbinary people prefer the pronouns of “they” and “them.” Looking at Jordan, one could not say what their biology is, which is the point and goal. The horror or the conflict would be telling a nonbinary person they have to be either a he or a she, having to choose one over the other. This is exactly the dilemma that Jordan has when they first arrive because they have to sleep in either a boys’ dormitory or a girls’ dormitory. After that dilemma, which isn’t played as horrific as one might assume, the struggle all but disappears.
Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13 and Footloose) co-stars as Owen Whistler, the man who owns and runs the camp. He’s a middle-aged man who comes off charming and reasonable. He seems almost tolerant and even accepting. He doesn’t quote Bible verses, as is the usual tactic of conversion therapists, as evidenced in Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased (2018). One would assume that Owen isn’t even trying to convert the youth who come here at all. Clearly, his demeanor is a smoke-screen or it’s a tactic in what could be considered gaslighting.
Carrie Preston (The Good Wife and True Blood) also co-stars as Cora Whistler, a doctor who is supposed to be a psychologist for the youth at the camp. It’s revealed that she’s the Lady Macbeth to Owen. She’s onboard and complicit with gaslighting the kids. Her tactics include deconstructing the kids mentally, subtly and slyly shaming and making the kids feel guilty. She engages in an insidious form of verbal bullying. This film doesn’t feature much on-screen physical brutality. It’s mostly implied or depicted off screen, but Cora’s verbal bullying is probably the most effective horror in this whole narrative.
However, that scene with Cora is just one. There really aren’t much more scenes that are as effective as hers. They’re not effective from a standpoint of being a horror film with scares or thrills. Filmmaker John Logan in his directorial feature debut is better known as the Oscar-nominated screenwriter for Gladiator (2000) and The Aviator (2004). Logan isn’t known for writing horror films. Logan did pen the adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) and the sequel Alien: Covenant (2017). Yet, those were based on already established properties. Those films were also punctuated with set-pieces that were either musical or bits of action. Slasher flicks are usually punctuated with kill scenes peppered throughout. Logan doesn’t really have those kinds of punctuation.
In a film like Scream (1996), there were kill scenes or set-pieces almost every 20 minutes. Aside from the opening, Logan goes nearly a hour before staging another kill scene. His film feels like it should have been a drama that was simply a test of wills between Jordan and Owen. The slasher aspects feel almost tacked on, befitting a different film from this one. If anything, this film provides a platform for actors like Austin Crute, Monique Kim and Quei Tann to shine. If Logan had made this film a drama, it might have afforded more time to explore Crute, Kim and Tann’s characters a bit more.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.
Available on Peacock.