Slasher series ‘Cold Prey’ is Norway’s answer to ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday the 13th’
I didn’t want to write that. “I was supporting you! as Tyra Banks would say. He had the perfect setup. Clever title, great concept, brilliant cast. How could a horror film about the queer experience written and directed by a gay man go so wrong on almost every level that They they completely fails as a narrative and insults its audience by totally misinterpreting the moment, dismissing very real and ongoing threats while reinforcing homophobic and transphobic tropes and beliefs?
It’s even hard to know where to start. But let’s start with the intention. I give the manager John Logan the benefit of the doubt that this is not how he wanted his directorial debut to be received. While the film has a score of 1.7 on Letterboxd, 3.3 on IMDB, and 29% on Rotten Tomatoes, the bigger issue has to be how his film was almost universally rejected by the queer community. I’m not going to claim that my interpretation of this film is definitive. I’m really happy that some can see things differently. But there are several confusing choices that make me wonder how Logan approached this film.
First off, if you’re thinking of making a queer-positive slasher movie at summer camp, the most obvious thing to do is learn from the notoriously problematic 1983 film, overnight camp. Since its release, the film has been vehemently derided, discussed, and even picked up by some within queer horror circles. Everyone knows the “shocking” ending; “WTF she has a PENIS?!?! I could forgive all the twisted and perverted murders, but that’s only one step too far! overnight camp was written and directed by a heterosexual cis man who denied any intention of trying to make any kind of social statement. He just wanted to make a dumb, screwed up little horror movie. Which is good for him, I guess, but the only thing worse than making a “bad” choice is making him apathetic.
The most controversial issue of overnight camp describes a presumably trans body as a monstrous body. At first glance, one could interpret the film as a mockery of the trans experience. But is Angela really trans? After a freak boating accident, Dr. Martha Thomas forced her nephew to assume the identity of her now deceased niece. While an ideal and healthy upbringing for a trans child would allow them to explore and self-identify their gender with the love and support of their guardian, the emotionally dystopian trauma of being forced to live in opposition to their true self is unfortunately indicative of far too much. people’s actual experience. For some, this allows Angela’s violent murderous reaction to provide a rallying cry of catharsis.
The notion of a character’s gender being revealed as a malicious and deceptive betrayal is an extremely common and harmful trope throughout cinema depicted in films such as Trained to kill and Ace Ventura: animal detective. The horror and humor is based on a transphobic view that trans people hide in society and just wait for the opportunity to entrap and assault a poor and unsuspecting potential sexual partner. This belief literally gets people killed – all the time. Yet in They theythe gender-ambiguous character of Gabriel (hardy har, get it?), seduces his bedmate Stu while luring him into a torture session at the behest of evil chaperones.
Witnessing this honeypot trope deployed in a movie like They they, it really shocked me to think that in 2022, a filmmaker would dub this dangerous and toxic insult. Did John Logan watch overnight camp? Has he even seen a horror movie?
With more than 300 proposed bills targeting and tormenting gay youth this year alone, the conservative right has hijacked the sexually predatory term ‘grooming’ to apply to all gay people and even those who accept and support them. . This has created a violent and destructive witch hunt that is crippling our educational institutions, tearing families apart and subjecting children to increasing harassment and abuse. It should be news to no one that there is mutual panic and desperation within the queer community. Health care is being cut, and the constant pressure of being degraded and reviled adds to an already well-established red flag of gay youth suicide rates. A movie like They they could have been an opportunity to not only portray them in a mainstream film, but also offer validation of acknowledgment of their very real fears with sympathetic vision and thought-provoking allegory.
Instead, the film portrays four of the six villains as gay, reinforcing several homophobic viewpoints: that closeted gays are dangerous and will sexualize and prey on your children, and perhaps most heartbreakingly, that the violence committed against us is perpetuated by ours. That we have no one to blame but ourselves. The film attempts to counter that notion by making the boldly mistaken decision not to kill off a single teenage character in a self-proclaimed slasher flick. Presumably, this choice is to save us from being triggered or being “unnecessarily” disagreeable, but it rejects all threats queer people face, real or allegorical. In terms of the narrative, it erases any semblance of having stakes, thus prompting us to ask, “why should I care?”
Throughout human history, we have told stories, factual and embellished, that serve as cautionary tales. They serve as a practical survival tool and a way to frame our fears as something more manageable to understand and identify with. Much has been made of a genre that appeals to those who feel different or have been altered by society. Horror has a way of portraying a world of terror that is very real to many of us. Despite the morbid implications, it can be quite reassuring to know that we are not alone in this view or experience. For me, carnival of souls and cat people gave me a lifelong gift to process my own personal traumas, fears and identity issues. They don’t provide answers, but they do offer glimmers of hope. It is catharsis.
In a story about a gay conversion camp, the horror is already there. People are forced to survive this tragic situation every day. We don’t need to be told it’s scary. We are well aware. By setting the narrative in a slasher movie, certain conventions come with it. Most notable being the concept of Final Girl. For all my troubles, the one thing no one can ever take away from this movie is that it’s the first and only horror movie to feature a non-binary protagonist. It is significant and important.
What does it mean to be a final “girl”? More often than not, it is the unassuming, well-meaning person who is placed in an impossible roulette wheel of danger beyond their fault or control. As the people around them are systematically dispatched by an amorphous and irresistible evil, the ‘Final Girl’, or the Final Person in the case of They they, must come to their senses and find the strength and the will to survive and stop the villain from perpetuating his wrath – until afterward, of course. Queer people, regardless of gender, have identified with the Final Girl since the slasher subgenre has existed. We are survivors, and while some like to romanticize that fact, we didn’t deserve to be forced into this to begin with. So when the Big Bad gets its edge in the end, it provides a fantasy that we will rarely get to experience in the real world. The characters in They they are not survivors. They simply lived long enough to see the credits.
Kevin BaconThe character of as the leader of the camp is never punished by those he has abused. In many ways, he is portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic figure. By presenting him as a seemingly reasonable and affable guy, it disarms audience expectations, which would be pretty brilliant if the movie bothered to subvert those expectations at the end. Instead, our final person, Jordan, is faced with a decision: either end the cycle of institutional torture, or punish a victim of abuse whose desire for revenge is justified, even if Molly’s actions are not not quite noble. When she claims they are strong enough to kill the man who tortured them and so many others, Jordan pathetically responds, “No, I have the strength not to.” A maddening position for a community that would have no rights today if a group of fags hadn’t picked up a brick to fight violent cops during the Stonewall riots of 1969. If Jordan had taken the lead, Pride n would never have existed.
In 100 years of cinema, there are less than ten explicitly queer horror films released by a mainstream studio. The whole queer experience has been banished forever into the shadow of the subtext. We seek out clues as a means of solace and we reclaim stories out of necessity, but we have never been truly recognized as valid or even seen. It’s unfair to put so much pressure and responsibility on a single film to heal centuries of neglect. I sincerely hope we could one day have dozens of terrible, misguided mainstream horror movies with weird stories and characters if it meant some really good ones were on the way as well. But this is not the case. They they fails to meet this moment. Instead of a rallying cry of self-realization, we got a Halloween episode of Joy which is actively regressive at a time when the queer community needs an angry Laurie Strode more than ever.
Kay Lynch is the festival director and founder of Salem Horror Festivalfilm producer (Bad Girl Boogie, Saint Drogo), and events manager for the George A. Romero Foundation.