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Writer/director John Logan on honoring and subverting the horror genre in They/Them

The screenwriter John Logan has one of the best resumes in Hollywood. First nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay for Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator, he would go on to earn more nominations for the films The Aviator and Hugo, both of which were directed by Martin Scorsese. In addition, he’s written for the James Bond franchise (Skyfall and Spectre), an Alien movie (Alien: Covenant), and a Star Trek film (Star Trek: Nemesis).

With his latest film, the Peacock horror slasher They/Them, Logan steps out of the shadows and makes his feature film directorial debut. In a conversation with Digital Trends, he talks about why he chose a horror film for his first film as a director and why he subverted slasher tropes to honor the queer characters in his film.

Digital Trends: John, you’ve had a prolific career as a writer. What made you take the leap into directing with this film?

John Logan: You know, it’s a very personal story more than anything else. That’s it. I was writing for the 12-year-old John Logan wanting to see a movie like this so desperately where queer characters are the protagonist and the heroes, which is something I never saw growing up.

As I started writing it, it just was very personal. It felt like an expression of myself in a deeply intimate way. And I’ve known Jason Blum [the producer] for years, and he is a great advocate for first-time directors. He was very supportive of the idea, as was Peacock. So, I had a lot of support going into it, which helped.

Teens arrive at summer camp in They/Them.

This isn’t your first experience with horror. For example, you wrote the cable series Penny Dreadful, which aired on Showtime some time ago. What is it about this genre that appeals to you?

I think it has to do with alternate worlds. Horror movies can take you to a very different place. It’s not like I’m walking down the aisles of Target. There’s something special about a horror movie.

The best horror movies deal with provocation. You know, they try to provoke a response from the audience. And as a dramatist, that’s all I try to do in every genre. I think I’m drawn to films that do that, and horror movies at their best can do that in a very elevated, interesting, and exciting way.

They/Them upends the conventions of the genre in that there really isn’t a final girl and the subjects being stalked aren’t teenagers but rather adults. Was that intentional on your part?

 Oh, yeah. I mean, what I wanted to do was celebrate the genre of the slasher film, which I love. We’re set at a camp in the woods. There’s a masked killer. You know, there are a lot of the tropes of the slasher movie that we embrace enthusiastically.

The joy, for me, was upending those tropes. I wanted to find different ways to do them and put a spin on them that was appropriate to this story. And this story is about the empowerment and celebration of these queer kids. The people who are the victims are the horrible people, the people you want to see killed, which is what the horror audience wants to see.

I feel like you want to see the bad people punished and you want to see the good people celebrate it. That’s a classic dramatic trope from the beginning of grief drama. So this was my sort of way of trying to uplift and sing the praises of these great queer heroes and to destroy some characters who were eminently worthy of being destroyed.

They/Them | Official Teaser | Peacock Original

Agreed. I was so tense at the beginning because I didn’t want any of these teens killed, you know? And typically in slashers, somebody has to die. And I was so relieved that none of the people that I liked got killed.

Well, I’m glad you felt that. I wanted the audience to fall in love with these kids. I wanted them to feel for these kids because so frequently in horror movies, you don’t really care about the characters all that much. You’re into the genre or the world or the killer or the suspense. But I wanted to really celebrate and honor sort of the beating heart of those kids. If you felt affection toward them, then I think we did our job.

They/Them is currently streaming on Peacock. For more horror films, check out these horror movies on Netflix and Prime Video.

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