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In the slasher “They / They”, homosexuals are the heroes, not the victims


John Logan is no stranger to creating blockbuster films, having penned the screenplays for ‘Gladiator’, ‘Hugo’, ‘Skyfall’, ‘The Aviator’ and ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’. But for his directorial debut, the three-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter wanted to write a love letter to the slasher genre with a cast of queer leads his younger self always wanted to see.

“Horror movies have a very complicated relationship with gender and sexual identity, and when I was growing up and watching the first cycle of slasher movies, for example, or any horror movie, the characters queer people were underrepresented,” Logan, 60, told NBC News. in a video interview. “They were either invisible, which was awful in a way, or they were jokes or they were victims, and I know how much it would have meant to me when I was 12, 13, 14 to see a hero queer.”

Left to right, Carrie Preston, Anna Chlumsky, Boone Platt and Kevin Bacon in ‘They/Them’.Josh Stringer/Blumhouse

Produced by Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions, “They/Them” — cleverly pronounced “they-slash-them” and premiering Friday on Peacock — follows a group of LGBTQ campers who are promised “a new sense of freedom” at their arrival at Camp Whistler, a conversion therapy camp run by Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon), his sadistic therapist wife Cora (Carrie Preston), and a suspiciously inviting group of counselors. But as the workers attempt to break down each of the participants, a mysterious killer begins claiming unsuspecting victims, and the campers are forced to unite in the fight for survival.

The terrifying premise of “They/Them” had been germinating in Logan’s mind for years, he said, and he wrote two of the roles with specific actors in mind: Bacon as the owner and the Brazilian actor Darwin Del Fabro as an enigmatic camper named Gabriel. And although he didn’t initially consider directing the film, Logan “became very attached” while writing the screenplay, “because it was so personal,” and Blum encouraged him to direct it, said Logan.

“Very rarely do I write with a particular actor in mind, but the minute I sat down to start writing Owen Whistler, I kept hearing Kevin’s voice,” he explained. “One of the things Kevin is so good at is playing with nuance. When we first meet Owen Whistler, he seems very sane, very reasonable and charming, and Kevin could charm the birds of the trees. , and yet he’s also able to light up for a moment to have a threat and an aura of danger around him…. He’s been a great collaborator throughout the process.

A lifelong horror movie fan, Logan said he wanted to “celebrate all the tropes” of the slasher genre, including having an isolated camp in the forest, a masked murderer with different ways to kill and a growing sense of dread. with increased stakes for all. protagonists. But beyond the film’s tone and “physical landscape,” he wanted to celebrate the seven queer characters — and the actors who play them — who he describes as “The Magnificent Seven.”

In the slasher “They / They”, homosexuals are the heroes, not the victims
Theo Germaine, center, and Austin Crute in “They/Them”. Josh Stringer/Blumhouse

“They are the ones who confront evil, and because they stick together, they are very powerful,” he said. “So I didn’t have a final boy or girl; I had a collection of final heroes.

Logan noted that the Camp Whistler abuser, unlike other killers of the genre, “is motivated by something very particular in relation to so-called conversion therapy, and they have a motivation that is directly tied to insidious evil. – it is the concept that you can change the identity of people.

According to a 2019 report from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, in the United States alone, nearly 700,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults have undergone conversion therapy at some point. of their life.

After having intimate conversations with survivors of conversion therapy, Logan said he not only wanted to convey the physical restraint of the controversial practice – which, as the film shows, can include shock therapy or aversion – but also “the psychological attack on children”. to try to make them doubt who they were, question who they were, and insult who they really were.

In the slasher “They / They”, homosexuals are the heroes, not the victims

“Everyone I spoke to who had gone through conversion therapy said [the psychological aspect] was the most insidious and horrifying part of it all – that their very identity was kind of under attack every day in different ways,” he recalled. “It was the psychological horror that, in a way, was the most profound for them, which led to a central scene in the film where the character of Jordan (Theo Germaine) has a psychological evaluation with the character of Cora…. It’s a very long, very quiet scene and, to me, really the most horrific thing in the movie.

As a middle-aged gay man, Logan knew he would need help to grasp the diversity of the LGBTQ community in 2022, namely the struggles that transgender and non-binary people routinely face. He worked closely with Scott Schofield, a senior consultant at GLAAD who became involved in the nascent stages of the project as executive producer, and actors Germaine and Quei Tann to develop a better understanding of the modern politics of sexuality and gender identity.

In addition to speaking with the cast and crew about sensitivity issues, such as which pronoun and which bathroom to use, Schofield was “incredibly helpful with me working on the intimacy scenes, because there’s a sort of romantic and sexual situations in the film [where] I wanted to make sure we treated the cast with the utmost respect and that they felt their voice was heard,” Logan said. “But Scott was there every day, and I constantly turned to him and said, ‘Are we doing it right? Are we right to say that? What concerns am I not aware of? »

For Logan, “They/Them” means “being a celebration of all parts of the queer experience,” including sexuality, romance, and “the general exuberance of the queer experience.” The film contains several intimate scenes, which were designed to show “how gay people interact erotically – the same way you’ve seen heterosexuals interact erotically all your life on screen,” he said.

“One of the romantic scenes is very romantic: you’re sitting on a dock, the sun is beautiful, and these two characters get together after the whole movie to kind of celebrate new love, so we always approach that in a very romantic.” he explained. “One of the other romantic scenes is very erotic, it’s very powerful. It’s kind of a primitive bond between two of the characters, so in a way he was trying to tackle all the different forms of romantic erotic expression and exuberance that can come up – to do it in a joyful way , but also honestly. .”

This joy is especially palpable in an early bonding scene in the cabins, when the campers sing “F—–‘Perfect” by P!nk, who approved the song’s use in the film. In many ways, “it was the perfect song,” Logan joked. “P!nk is a big advocate for LGBTQ+, so it seemed very appropriate that at Jordan’s lowest point, this song would be the song that brought them back to that sense of empowerment. In fact, it’s the moment when all of these disparate characters come together to become one family, if you will.

The song also reappears at the end of the film, when the surviving campers are left on their own the morning after the killer has been unmasked.

“I think character growth or human growth comes through the crucible of conflict,” Logan said. “We emerge as better human beings when we have been tested in some way, and the characters in this film are severely tested both psychologically and physically in terms of the terror and horror of this camp, and they emerge unified, proud, strong and courageous. …I hope it’s a very entertaining horror movie for the general public, but there’s another meaning to it, which is if you know queer people in your life, celebrate them. them.

Having written and produced a wide range of stories for stage and screen over the past four decades, Logan noted that the significant advancements in LGBTQ representation made this a good time for a film like “They/Them.” , which probably wouldn’t be the case 5 to 10 years ago.

When he made movies like ‘Any Given Sunday’ in 1999, “queer characters just weren’t represented in mainstream Hollywood movies at all. Or if they were, it was in a romantic comedy. as a gay best friend or a lesbian best friend,” Logan said. “But gradually over the years we’ve been able to open those doors to queer personas.”

“For me personally, a big sign of that was ‘Skyfall,’ when Javier Bardem has his first scene with Dan Craig, and we’re dealing with homoerotic seduction,” he continued. “And I have to say that people, the Bond universe, for example, were very excited about it – just like [director] Sam Mendes, in terms of saying, ‘Yeah, it’s modern. Now we can represent characters in a complex and interesting way. They are not always the best friend, the victim or the joke; they can also be complicated characters. And it only grew more and more to the point where a movie like “They/Them” can fully embrace these characters in all their complexity.

“They/Them” now airs on Peacock (NBC News and Peacock are both owned by NBCUniversal).

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