They/Them Ending Explained: A Conversion Camp Killer Unmasked

John Logan's conversion camp horror movie "They/Them" hit Peacock this week, and the divisive buzz around the movie has fizzled into a somewhat baffled discourse as viewers finally get to see what all the fuss is about. The latest queer horror offering makes some bold choices, but not the ones anyone was expecting. After all, who would've guessed this seemingly serious movie about the inhumanity of anti-LGBTQ+ conversion practices would feature a spontaneous "Glee"-like sing-a-long to P!nk's "Perfect"?

That's just one of many odd things going on in this movie, which follows a group of young adult attendees — led by non-binary camper Jordan (Theo Germaine) — of what first appears to be a surprisingly hip and fun conversion camp. Given the fact that hip and fun conversion camps don't actually exist, it's no surprise that the experience quickly becomes disturbing, despite group leader Owen's (Kevin Bacon) nice guy exterior.

What the hell is happening at this camp?

There are a few strange occurrences at Whistler Camp, none of which add up to a particularly compelling horror film. We learn pretty early on that Owen and some of his fellow staff members are more nefarious than they seem, as they misgender and punish trans girl Alexandra (Quei Tann) after spying on her in the showers. Later, Jordan finds photo files containing evidence that past campers have been physically abused (in the form of what look like artsy stock photos, for some reason).

It turns out, the staff at Camp Whistler has some sick methods of getting the campers to fall in line, including planting someone undercover to seduce the campers. In this case, it's Gabriel (Darwin del Fabro), a camper we haven't been told much about, who makes quick work of hooking up with jock Stu (Cooper Koch) under false pretenses. Afterwards, in the closest thing the film has to any real twist, Gabriel says that the only labels that matter are predator and prey, revealing that they're working with Owen and his team. Stu gets forced into aversion therapy, which is unfortunately a real-life practice meant to create negative psychological associations. He's strapped down and electrocuted while exposed to what appears to be more bland stock imagery, this time of hot men in boxer briefs.

A familiar killer

This is all pretty awful, but "They/Them" is a slasher, and nothing the evil camp staff is doing involves slashing. That's because the killer isn't a counselor, but a former camper: Anna Chlumsky's Molly, who spends much of the movie undercover as a surprisingly sympathetic camp staffer. Molly dons a mask to knock off all of her coworkers, starting with a creep who was watching footage of the showers, before finally revealing herself to Owen. She's also so stealth that the movie isn't even a proper whodunnit, because nobody gets around to realizing anyone's been killed until the climax.

It turns out, Molly was sent to Whistler Camp as a 14-year-old, and it basically ruined her life. Her real name is Angie Phelps, and after her time at the camp, she became suicidal before deciding to turn her rage towards those who wronged her. Now, she seemingly has a plan to "cleanse" all of the conversion camps, which she says will convince parents to stop sending their kids to them. Also, in a quick aside that's easy to miss, she says she killed the counselor she's been pretending to be before she ever arrived at camp, in order to assume her identity.

Jordan's choice

In the end, Angie invites Jordan to join her on a killing spree to rid the world of conversion camps, but Jordan refuses. This is, in part, a callback to an earlier scene where Jordan shoots a dog during a camp exercise designed to make campers lumped into the "male" group get in touch with what Owen calls their biologically imperative bloodlust. Owen called Jordan a killer then, but they're not: they confessed in another scene that they're "tired of fighting" and "just want to be" — and in a literal way, that's exactly what this non-violent ending allows them.

Unfortunately, although Jordan is sure to become the latest in a long line of heavily scrutinized queer horror characters, "They/Them" fails to engage with or acknowledge the legacy of queer horror that came before it. Jordan refuses to be part of the queer killer trope, sure, but Angie doesn't and is somehow portrayed as both righteous and unhinged at once. For decades, horror movies have wrestled with questions about subjugation, bodily autonomy, and injustice, but "They/Them" side-steps most of them through its simultaneously flat and muddled approach to a thin, scare-free story.

The final scene sees a happy ending for most of our heroes. Closeted suburbanite Kim (Anna Lore) and confident college student Veronica (Monique Kim) are officially dating, and plan to come out to Kim's parents together. Theater-lover Toby (Austin Crute) is also somehow dating Stu, despite the two barely sharing any screen time. Meanwhile, Jordan is planning to get emancipated and live the way they want to, while Angie is arrested after killing Owen.

A meager entry in the queer horror canon

"They/Them" touches on a lot of topics that are often discussed within the queer community, from the "born this way" narrative and the element of choice in queer identities, to the particularly violent and specific biases that trans and non-binary people face. Some moments feel authentic, but the movie gets a few things very obviously and bizarrely wrong — like when it intentionally takes the topic of religious ideology out of the conversion camp conversation, or when otherwise protective characters respond to their fellow camper's aggressive misgendering with a cheerful game of tug-of-war.

Yet the problem with "They/Them" is that nothing it's trying to communicate is well-developed enough to be emblematic or representative of the queer community, for better or worse. The film hints at interesting ideas, particularly surrounding Jordan's path to empowerment as a non-binary person. At the very least, their refusal to engage in the violence that Owen coded as masculine, even if it's violence against their own violent oppressor, is a thought-provoking one. But instead of fleshing this conversation out, the movie buries it under assorted plot elements that the flimsy script can't juggle very well. In the end, the film's mediocrity and lack of clear voice or tone keeps it from even rising to the level of debate-worthy queer representation. It's just not a good movie.

Seriously, why did the campers burst out into a P!nk song?

I have no idea why this group of depressed and scared young adults suddenly went full "Pitch Perfect" for one scene and chose, of all songs, P!nk's "Perfect" as their collective anthem. This seems like something only writer-director John Logan can answer. It also seems like the part of the movie that's likely to haunt the pop culture landscape the longest.