The horror genre is filled with tropes designed to scare you, things that have been used for decades to terrify audiences. The jump scare, the face in the bathroom mirror, the chase scene, should I continue? It seems that there is nothing that scares us anymore, that everything has been redone hundreds of times. That is, until a film dared to implement the most terrifying thing of all: anthems of empowerment.
They they (or they slash Them”) is the new slasher film released Friday on Peacock, billed as “an LGBTQIA+ empowerment tale set in a conversion camp.” It tries to bring some originality back to mainstream horror. Aside from a few big names, like Kevin Bacon, to build credibility and appeal to a wider audience, it has an all-queer cast of actors, which is a huge step for a film produced by a major studio. .
His conversion camp setting is definitely one that could pack a lot of horror movie power; Conversion camps are very real and horrific places where bigoted and ignorant families send children to be mentally and sometimes physically abused until they are so broken down that they “turn straight”. Placing a slasher here, unleashing a killer on camp counselors, could be a stroke of genius if done correctly.
It is therefore regrettable that the full potential of They they is wasted by paper-thin type, nonsensical writing, and a genuine misunderstanding of the real horrors that exist inside those camp gates. Even his masked killer doesn’t provide a single tremor. The real scares in They they can be found in its wacky scenario, especially a scene that I can never get rid of. The only thing scarier than a conversion camp is when your fellow campers start a chorus P!nk.
In a touching scene midway through the film, two campers, Jordan (Theo Germaine) and Alexandra (Quei Tann), discuss the struggles of being trans youth and their experiences of living open after coming- out. The scene is legitimately poignant, and made me think for a moment that They they was going to have some worthy takeout after all. And then, to my shock, Alexandra starts singing P!nk’s “Fuckin’ Perfect” to Jordan. Moments later, the other campers join in one by one to make it a full-fledged musical number.
Oh, how naive we were to think Joy was gone and buried. The dead always come back for a last scare.
If you might not be aware, “Fuckin’ Perfect” is a low-end empowerment anthem specially crafted by P!nk to be a dastardly, chorus-heavy earworm. It’s filled with sterile, platitudinal lyrics (“Change the voices in your head/make them like you instead”) and banal messages. An insincere connection attempt.
I’ve spent a third of my life trying to escape this song, dodging it on bad Pride playlists and Midwestern radio stations when I get home to my parents. So to be faced with it in They theywhen I had nowhere to run after letting my guard down watching the only moving moment in the film, it was like being thrust into a horror movie of my own.
There’s a particular kind of chills my body gets when I feel unbearable discomfort. They usually show up in a movie theater when a trailer is incredibly stupid or, on the other hand, supposed to be so grand but completely misses the mark (Avatar 2!) – that my body can’t help but form a physical reaction to try and warn me to go into fight or flight mode. I got these chills from head to toe watching this scene. I practically passed out when a camper jumped on a bed to do the P!nk pseudo-rap verse.
Chloe Grace Moretz embarks on gay conversion therapy: in “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”
I had to watch it several times to write the article you are reading, a task that seemed almost unbearable. I even kept my Peacock subscription for another month after the last episode of Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Travel Season 2 Just So I Can Access They they once again on the day of its release to write an accurate article – journalism is not dead, folks.
This scene is what some phobia therapists might call immersion therapy, except I’d rather be covered in a tank of snakes. And I hate snakes.
Even more shocking is that They they is directed and written by John Logan, who has not only written fantastic films like celestial fall and Aviator, but is also openly gay himself. “I love this song, I love P!nk,” he said. Coming. “I wrote [the script] to the stage version of red Mill, where we used P!nk, so P!nk was often in my head. That, my friend, is what we call a gay fever dream. We all have them after falling asleep listening to Britney Spears or Toni Braxton, but the chaos they inspire in our subconscious has no place on screen, at least not like this.
Additionally, “Fuckin Perfect” is taken from P!nk’s greatest hits album, which is boldly titled, Biggest hits…so far!!!, exclamation marks included. While I appreciate the deliberate aspiration of this track and the way it reads like a tweet I made in a state of mania, this album also contains a little song called “Stupid Girls”, the most hot of 2006. So forgive me if I’m not one to sympathize with P!nk’s take on seemingly living a life under siege while one of the most popular songs in his oeuvre was determined to demolish women for shopping and dating.
Or what about when P!nk took the stage at an event organized by the Human Rights Campaign (already debatable) and began his speech by saying, “I’m gay…actually, I’m not.” Personally, I think it’s very cool and fun to treat coming out as a silly little joke. Let’s throw a few thousand dollars in royalties at the film as a thank you.
I can think of half a dozen songs off the top of my head that would have been better suited for this scene. A little song called “Brave” by Sara Bareilles. Maybe something off born like this. My god, Britney Spears’ “Lucky” might even have done the trick in the right context. At least it’s a song that would make the audience want to join in instead of audibly moaning. These songs might not be any less gritty, but at least they’re half-listenable.
They they don’t move the needle. He has nothing new to say, and therefore, nothing to lose. He may have put his fictional campers in a conversion camp stalked by a masked killer (little creepy), but I was a queer person facing real coercion when faced with a Mohawk aural abuser whose real name is Alicia Moore. P!nk has been pestering me with this song for years, crashing on the roof of my car doing aerobatics every time it plays on FM radio.
When They they finally came to an abrupt halt and blacked out, I thought I had escaped this nightmarish world for good. Gone are the bizarre scenes of counselors hooking people up to electroshock machines and showing them what looks like images you’d pull out of dot com screensavers if you searched for “muscle man.” No more bad haircuts and dye jobs. More songs to sing.
And then there was a final jumpscare: “Fuckin’ Perfect” played over the end credits. They they may not have scared me once, but I will still have nightmares for weeks.
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