Bizarre, absurd, and unsettling; these are the kinds of things I really like in a film. Usually. Honeydew takes us on the strange journey of a couple whose camping trip doesn’t go as planned. When Sam and Riley are told to get off someone’s property when camping, their car breaks down as they try to leave, and they end up at the home of a stranger, where things just get weirder by the minute.
Honeydew’s first few scenes are absolutely stuffed full of details, and you may be given the impression that all of these little details will matter. As audio overlaps and scenes with no clear connection are spliced together with split-screens and quick cuts, it can at times be difficult to understand what exactly we should be paying attention to. While ultimately, Honeydew does tie everything together, I didn’t find the sort of satisfaction I would normally get from creating something with the ingredients I’ve got on hand.
Sam (Sawyer Spielberg) recites lines; Rylie (Malin Barr) is apparently sort of obsessed with wheat. The two of them are distracted and pre-occupied with themselves, to the point where they don’t realize that they’re camping on a man named Eulis’s land. Rylie studies botany, and is doing her doctoral thesis studying the local crops, following a textbook called Sordico: the Genus Purcipeps . While it’s explained clearly that this is why the couple is out camping in this field, one mystery of Honeydew is why exactly the choice was made to make up a word to stand in for claviceps purpurea, which causes ergotism.
The unlikeable couple had been planning on a trip for just the two of them, but their careless error leads them to the dowdy home of Karen (Barbara Kingsley) and her son Gunni (Jamie Bradley), who is mostly ignored in the first few scenes we meet him in. The accents of the people in the town are totally over-exaggerated, and everyone they come across is just a touch too strange. It could be campy and fun, but director Devereux Milburn seems to be going for an eerie, chilling vibe in his debut feature which premiered at 2020’s Nightstream Film Festival.
The blurb on IMDB for Honeydew says simply, “Strange cravings and hallucinations befall a young couple after seeking shelter in the home of an aging farmer and her peculiar son”, but it’s never really clear that Sam and Riley are hallucinating. It’s clear that they’re sort of out of it, and making bad decisions, but this is a problem. Honeydew seems like it might just be confusing us because it doesn’t exactly know what it wants to be.
Characters in horror movies making poor choices is nothing new, but a lot of the choices Riley and Sam make really just make no sense. If you were in a strange house with a creepy old woman, would you just be chilling in a towel? I don’t think so. I’d probably go sleep in my car, or you know, just keep to myself as much as possible.
The film’s score is certainly contrived as it clanks and screeches, working to instill a sense of dread. The score contributes to the sense that Honeydew is an attempt at the sort of “elevated” horror that I love Ari Aster for, but this brings me back to thinking that this film would have worked better if it wanted to be in the self-aware B-Movie/Camp horror genre. It should have been an episode of a show like Creepshow, and not a 100+ minute long film. In the attempt to be atmospheric, artsy, and maybe even deep, Honeydew loses focus and becomes something of a muddled attempt at art house horror.
Themes of religious sacrifice/temptation and food insecurity are hinted at but not developed; Sam and Riley are vegans who eat very healthy and carefully, oblivious to the plights of others, while Karen and Eulis are poor people who live in the middle of nowhere, eating what they can to survive. There may also be commentary about not thinking about what you’re consuming, but this, too, is undeveloped.
Are we supposed to be thinking about how the potentially classist values of people like Sam and Riley can lead them right into a situation where they’re taken advantage of by someone like Karen? Are we supposed to be rooting for Karen? I feel like if this were another movie, I might indeed be rooting for Karen and Eulis, but I was so distracted by the wonky editing and overbearing sound that it didn’t really occur to me to root for anyone at the time. None of the characters are portrayed in a way that really provides any sustenance.
Who are the real victims here? Honeydew is a great movie if you’re not really interested in thinking about it, and I wish that this had been a fun movie that I could have just enjoyed. Instead, poking around at all of these larger themes and leaving them unexplored has me feeling empty and hungry for something more fulfilling.
Honeydew releases on on VOD, Digital HD and DVD on April 13
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