At this point, the hillbilly-in-the-woods horror sub-genre has become less about which films can be the most violent and shocking and more about production designers outdoing themselves when it comes to making things look dirty and old. And while I acknowledge that work does take a certain skill, the result isn’t so much scary or creepy as much as it is looking at the set dressing and thinking “I suppose something scary or creepy could happen in this room.” From writer/director/editor Devereux Milburn comes Honeydew, a film that doesn’t exactly add anything new to the stories often set in rundown farmhouses populated by people with six or seven screws loose. But there are signs of potential in this filmmaker, who at this point seems better at creating an atmosphere for horrific events to take place than the actual scares or other shocking happenings.
Sam and Rylie (Sawyer Spielberg and Malin Barr) are a young couple on a road trip. Rylie is in training to become a botanist and is interested in a particular wheat disease in the area that has been known to impact both human and animal life if consumed, while Sam is an actor who can’t stop rehearsing because he’s not good at memorization. They stop for the night and set up a small campsite on a farmer’s property, but when they’re chased off the land, they discover their car no longer works. So, they walk until they arrive at the home of Karen (Barbara Kingsley), an older farmer living with her apparently brain-damaged grown son Gunni (Jamie Bradley), whose chief characteristic is that he seems to enjoy sucking on lemons dipped in sugar. He’s one of the film’s many examples of things that appear to have a potential for threat but never quite get there.
While waiting for a nearby neighbor to come give the young people’s car a jump start, Karen offers to feed the two strangers a meal comprised almost entirely of what I’m guessing is locally sourced beef and wheat-based products (bread, cupcakes), so you can see fairly early where this is headed. Outside of the couple, there isn’t a character in this movie that isn’t playing odd to the hilt, with Kingsley being the only one who really pulls it off in an effectively unnerving manner, drifting from sweet old lady to menacing force in the blink of an eye.
Inexplicably, the young couple agrees to spend the night in this grotesque funhouse—in the grungy, leaky basement—and things just get worse for them as Karen’s true nature and plan is revealed (which is bad, but never as bad as you think or hope it will be). Perhaps the strangest moment in Honeydew involves the surprise appearance of an actor I had no idea was in this film, whose name isn’t even listed on IMDb. I don’t want to ruin the cameo, but I was so sure my eyes were deceiving me, I assumed I was seeing things (thankfully, my eyes were just fine), and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the appearance. It doesn’t really add anything to the overall film, but it did heighten the weirdness factor for me ever so slightly.
I almost wish Honeydew had strictly been about the after-effects of this tainted wheat because at least that would have been something vaguely new. Instead, filmmaker Milburn takes us into more familiar backwoods territory that can be traced back to everything from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to any number of horror stories built around religion gone wrong. Perhaps the film’s biggest flaw (unless it was its intention) is that both lead characters are supremely dislikable, and as a result, it’s difficult—if not impossible—to care about whether they survive or escape their predicament. If Milburn’s only goal was to embrace the strange and go for unsettling more than scary, Honeydew accomplishes that to more of a degree than anything else. But I found it predictable, laborious and ultimately empty, setting the stage for a horror movie that never arrived.
The film is now available via VOD.
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