Written & Directed by Devereux Milburn
Sometimes you come across a movie so bizarre that you can’t quite figure out if you enjoyed it or hated it. Honeydew is such a movie. It probably didn’t help that I watched it after consuming my nightly quarter of an edible, but I find that often acts as a filter, heightening the things I like about a piece of media and spotlighting everything I hate. For Honeydew, my mind was confused while watching it because you had so many elements clashing with each other that made the picture feel like it was causing you to love and hate it moment by moment. Ultimately, I wondered if that wasn’t the intent of the movie.
Rylie (Malin Barr) and her boyfriend Sam (Sawyer Spielberg) are exploring rural New England. The purpose is for Rylie to investigate an outbreak of a toxic fungus that has broken out and is devastating farms. Unfortunately, they lose their cell phone coverage and camp out in a field only to be woken up in the middle of the night by the owner and told to move on. However, something is wrong with their car, and it won’t start, so Rylie and Sam go trekking down the road and come across a farmhouse and ask to use the phone. The kindly owner, Karen (Barbara Kingsley), lets them in and calls someone to tow their car. But this is all just the beginning of a night that devolves deeper and deeper into complete madness that will forever slice a scar through their relationship.
Honeydew has some good things going for it. It feels utterly off-kilter from the start with the editing and musical score. I was immediately unsettled by some surprising images and quick cuts. I would imagine most viewers will be disoriented for a while which is the perfect mindset. Just like our protagonists, nothing is really making sense; things feel threatening but then dissipate. When they meet Gunni, a mute, almost catatonic resident of the house, things take a marked turn. Karen is constantly smiling while everything around her feels twisted and not right.
The core of Honeydew is a backwoods horror story; think of any of the standards (The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw, etc.). But writer-director Devereux Milburn is attempting to slowly deconstruct those tropes to explain the madness (the fungal infection of the wheat) and also cutting through moments of tension with dark comedy. Milburn manages to extract menace from the public domain Popeye cartoons that Gunni watches with cartoon violence seems to portend the horrible things to come for our couple. There are shades of Grimm’s fairy tales woven throughout; I suspect Milburn is making allusions to Hansel & Gretel in the story’s structure. From the first frame, I was convinced this would all tie up in the end with some horrifying revelation. I didn’t, though.
There’s a bit of stunt casting revealed in the third act that completely took me out of the movie. Things had reached such a fever pitch of insanity that I was buckled in and ready to have either some big secret revealed or watch the film devolve into a bloodbath. It never does either. It introduces a new character who was the big mystery from the opening prologue and doesn’t really do much. This was when I realized the film doesn’t have much of a story; it trades in plot points from other horror movies. There is a flood of excellent stylistic touches, but the underlying narrative is so thin they cannot save the picture.
Now, am I saying I hate this movie, and you shouldn’t watch it? Well, no. I expect most people who watch this movie will hate it because it doesn’t deliver a cohesive plot. I’m not opposed to movies like that. I love Beyond the Black Rainbow and, more recently, Come True. But Honeydew is just so strange in its presentation that it ends up drawing attention to its lack of substance. If you’re a fan of gory horror, this isn’t going to do it for you, so you don’t even have the spectacle of the genre to fall back on. I firmly believe you’ll agree that this movie is unlike anything you can experience out there but be prepared to completely hate it.
It certainly hasn’t turned me off to the director. In fact, I would say I am very interested in watching anything made by Devereux Milburn because it won’t look like or feel how I expect it would. I think it is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by way of Maine, meaning there isn’t the intense aggressive violence you associate with Texas, rather kindly farmers with that New England brogue interested in cooking you up for dinner. However, when that actor shows up for what constitutes a cameo, I suspect you’ll also be pulled out like I was, which is disappointing for such a unique film-watching experience.