The horror genre is full of tropes designed to scare you, things that have been used to terrify audiences for decades. The jumping scare, the face in the bathroom mirror, the chase – do I have to continue? It seems like there’s nothing left to scare us, like everything has been done a hundred times before. Until a film dared to implement the most terrifying thing ever: self-empowerment anthems.
them (or you slash Them”) is the new slasher film out Friday on Peacock, billed as “an LGBTQIA+ empowerment story set in a conversion camp.” It tries to bring some originality back to mainstream horror. Barring a few bigger names like Kevin Bacon to lend credibility and attract a wider audience, it features a cast of totally queer actors, which is a big step for a movie being produced by a big studio.
The conversion camp setting is certainly one that could hold a great deal of horror movie potency; Conversion camps are very real, cruel places where bigoted, ignorant families send children to be mentally, and sometimes physically, abused until they’ve broken down to the point of “growing straight.” Using a slasher here, unleashing a killer on the camp counselors, could be a stroke of genius if done right.
So it’s a shame that it has all the potential them is wasted on gossamer-thin letters, nonsensical writing, and a true misunderstanding of the true horrors that exist beyond these camp gates. Even his masked killer doesn’t cause a single tremor. The real horrors come in them are found in his pathetic script, especially in one scene I can never shake off. The only thing scarier than a conversion camp is one where your fellow campers start a P!nk singalong.
During a touching scene midway through the film, two campers, Jordan (Theo Germaine) and Alexandra (Quei Tann), discuss the difficulties of being young trans people and their experiences of living openly after coming out. The scene is justifiably poignant and made me think about it for a moment them would have some worthy takeaways though. And then, to my overwhelming shock, Alexandra starts singing P!nk’s “Fuckin’ Perfect” to Jordan. Moments later, one by one, the other campers join in to make it a full musical number.
Oh how naive we were to think joy was gone and buried. The dead always come back for one last scare.
In case you don’t know, “Fuckin’ Perfect” is a bottom-up self-empowerment anthem specially crafted by P!nk to be an insidious, chorus-heavy catchy tune. It’s full of sparse, mundane lyrics (“change the voices in your head/make them like you instead”) and mundane messages. An insincere attempt to connect.
I’ve spent a third of my life escaping this song, dodging it on bad Pride playlists and Midwestern radio stations when I go home to visit my parents. So to be confronted with it themwhen i had nowhere to run after dropping my guard watching the one emotional moment of the movie was like stepping into a horror movie of its own.
There’s a special kind of chills my body gets when I experience unbearable second-hand embarrassment. They usually show up in a movie theater when a trailer is on that’s so incredibly stupid – or otherwise meant so grandly but totally misses the mark (avatar 2!) – that my body can’t help but develop a physical response to try and warn me to go into fight or flight mode. I had these chills from head to toe watching that scene. I practically passed out when a camper hopped onto a bed to sing P!nk’s pseudo-rap verse.
I had to watch it multiple times to write the article you are reading now, a task that seemed almost unbearable. I even let my Peacock subscription run a month after the last episode of Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip Season 2 just so I could access them again on the day of its publication to write an accurate article – journalism is not dead folks.
This scene is what some phobia therapists would call immersion therapy, except I’d rather be covered by a tank full of snakes. And I hate snakes.
That’s even more shocking them is directed and written by John Logan, who not only wrote fantastic films like skyfall and aviator, but is also openly gay himself. “I love this song, I love P!nk,” he said Soon. “I wrote [the script] to the stage version of Moulin Rougewhere we used P!nk, so P!nk was on my mind a lot.” That, my friend, is what we call a gay fever dream. We all get them after falling asleep listening to Britney Spears or Toni Braxton, but the havoc they wreak in our subconscious has no place on screen, at least not like that.
Also, “Fuckin Perfect” comes from P!nk’s greatest hits album, boldly titled: Greatest Hits…So Far!!!, exclamation mark included. While I appreciate the wantonness of this track and how it reads like a tweet I made in a state of mania, this album also includes a little song called “Stupid Girls,” the hottest slut-shaming song of 2006. So forgive me if I’m not someone who sympathizes with P!nk’s perspective of living what appears to be a competitive life when one of the most popular songs in her oeuvre was bent on tearing women down for shopping and dating.
Or how about when P!nk took the stage at a Human Rights Campaign event (already questionable) and started her speech by saying, “I’m gay…actually I’m not.” Personally, I think it’s very cool and fun to treat coming out like a silly little joke. Let’s toss her a few thousand dollars in movie royalties as a thank you.
I can think of half a dozen songs that would have been better suited to this scene. A little song called “Brave” by Sara Bareilles. Maybe something off Born like this. My god, Britney Spears’ “Lucky” could have been convincing in the right context. This is at least a song that would get the audience to join in instead of audibly moaning. These songs are perhaps no less terrifying, but they are at least semi-listenable.
them does not move the needle. It has nothing new to say and therefore nothing to lose. It may have put its fictional campers in a conversion camp stalked by a (unscary) masked killer, but I was an odd person subjected to real-world compulsion when confronted by an Iroquois raider whose real name is Alicia Moore is. P!nk has haunted me with this song for years and every time it plays on FM radio, it crashes through the roof of my car and does aerial acrobatics.
When them finally slammed to a stop and blacked out, I thought I’d escaped this nightmarish world forever. No more weird scenes where counselors hook people up to stun guns and show them images that look like images you’d pull from screensavers if you searched “muscleman”. No more bad haircuts and box dye jobs. No more sing-alongs.
And then there was one last jump scare: “Fuckin’ Perfect” is played over the credits. them I may not have been scared once, but I’m going to have nightmares for weeks to come.