“This is a safe space .. for everyone.”
When an LGBTQ+ conversion camp adopts a so-called “kill ’em with kindness” mantra, how far can they really go?
If there’s one thing I love, it’s punny titles. So when I heard that there’s a brand new queer slasher called “they slash them,” I had very high expectations and hoped that the film would be as clever as the title. Directed and written by John Logan, the film specifically focuses on a group of queer kids sent to conversion camp, where they’re supposed to find the “root cause” of their identities and analyze them. Queer representation often exists in a more subtle context in horror, and while it’s getting more overt with the current times, it is still rare to see the LGBTQ+ community take roles as the surviving main characters or heroes.
Upon arriving at Whistler camp, the kids meet its owner, Owen Whistler (Kevin Bacon) who presents himself as a harmless, understanding adult claiming that the camp is all inclusive. Having also starred in Friday the 13th, Bacon’s return to the slasher genre looked promising, this time conveying a villanous disposition. Jordan, a nonbinary teenager (Theo Germaine), finds Whistler’s good behavior suspicious—as opposed to the typical “bible thumping” preachers who are direct about their homophobia, his performatively positive behavior serves as a much foreboding point to Jordan. Jordan’s fears slowly come true when they discover the revolting transphobia pushed onto them during therapy, and the counselors’ bigotry becomes more conspicuous as they attempt to enforce traditional gender roles onto the rest of the group and utilize traditionally torturous techniques to convert them.
While I find the premise of the film fairly unique, and the setting as well as the tone ideal in the first half hour, it starts falling apart after. The transition of the counselors’ behavior from “feigned cheery” to “overtly sinister” would have been much better executed if the overall direction wasn’t perplexing. This movie establishes itself as a satirical “campy” slasher during certain moments, but taking account its themes and plot, it also takes the “heavy and serious” route at times. Unfortunately, it succeeds in neither categories.
It attempts to fuse the two, and in the process of doing that somehow squanders the personalities of the characters. The cast is quite talented but there aren’t any scenes that allowed them to shine, and their characters are uniformly flat. The length of the movie is not justified with the amount of filler there is. In the end it confusingly conveys a moralizing narrative; there seems to be no cohesive and consistent direction in the tone of the film. Accompanied with a dull and tedious final monologue, subverting the camp’s slogan “respect, renew, rejoice” only comes off as a contrived attempt at creating a catchy one-liner and a witty, memorable scene. Furthermore, the effects and murder scenes are scarce and mainly done offscreen, ironically lacking the “slashing” aspect in spite of its title.
Overall, it feels that the film loses track of the subgenre it’s supposed to be in halfway through. It lacks the satire and splatter that define slasher movies, but also the profundity that horror-drama films possess. This could have potentially been a great entry to the wave of iconic queer horror films.