'They/Them' - conversion camp's a killer

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday August 23, 2022
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(L-R:) Carrie Preston, Anna Chlumsky, Boone Platt and Kevin Bacon in 'They/Them.' <br>photo: Josh Stringer/Blumhouse
(L-R:) Carrie Preston, Anna Chlumsky, Boone Platt and Kevin Bacon in 'They/Them.'
photo: Josh Stringer/Blumhouse

Hollywood superstar Kevin Bacon, who began his film career when he appeared in the classic slasher film "Friday the 13th" (1980), returns to that genre in a film he executive-produced with Scott Turner Schofield, a well known trans actor and activist. As with "Friday the 13th," the action is set at a summer camp. Although this time it's a camp that practices "conversion therapy," the debunked practice which allegedly turns LGBTQ people straight.

Jason Blum, another of the new film's producers, was inspired to make "They/Them" after he produced "Pray Away," a documentary about the harm caused by conversion therapy, for Netflix. "They/Them" is currently streaming on Peacock.

The title refers to the pronouns used by many trans and non-binary people. The producers of "They/Them" are to be commended for casting LGBTQ people as LGBTQ characters. Theo Germaine, a non-binary actor, co-stars in the film as Jordan, a non-binary character who isn't comfortable in either the boys or girls bunk rooms of Camp Whistler, the conversion therapy camp he has been forced to attend.

Likewise, Quei Tann, a Black trans woman in real life, is playing Alexandra, also a Black trans woman. And handsome Cooper Koch is seen as Stuart, a young gay man who is subjected to cruel electroshock therapy as part of his conversion "cure." Koch is gay in real life.

From the beginning, the cruelties of the camp are made clear. When Alexandra doesn't reveal that she is trans, she is forced to sleep in the boys' bunk room. This is but one of the many cruelties that are seen in the film.

(L-R:) Theo Germaine and Austin Crute in 'They/Them.' photo: Josh Stringer/Blumhouse  

For a while, the film appears to be nothing more than a dramatic exposé of how vicious conversion therapy is, until people who work at the camp begin dying mysteriously and violently. Something more than just fake therapy is going on here.

Bacon, always a fine actor, is superb as the creepy man who runs the camp. His performance is quiet, restrained and chilling. From the beginning, when he tries to present himself as a nice guy friend of the campers, it's obvious that there's a lot more going on with him.

Bacon is absolutely unnerving in a scene where he orders a camper to shoot his dog as a means of teaching the camper how to "act like a man." But the film's most frightening sequence is the electroshock scene in which Stuart is tied to a chair and gagged.

He's hooked up to a machine and shown pictures of scantily clad women and scantily clad men. Whenever the photos of the men appear, he's charged with electricity. Bacon has a look of sheer delight on his face as he raises the levels of the juice.

While the murders seen in the film are shocking, they don't even come close to being as disturbing as the conversion scenes. These terrible things are done to LGBTQ kids every day, and the practice continues today even though it's been debunked.

Ultimately, "They/Them" is a horror movie not because of its gruesome murders, but because of the conversion practices that it exposes, though some of the murders are quite graphic. These killings turn out to be cathartic for the LGBTQ viewer, considering what the horrible things the murder victims are subjecting the kids in the camp to. "They/Them" is definitely worth a look.


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