Nightstream Review: Honeydew
Keep an ear open for this new tale of backwoods malice
By Richard Whittaker,
6:45PM, Mon. Oct. 19, 2020
Babes in the wood. Hansel and Gretel. Hop-o'-My-Thumb. The myth of the innocents who stumble into the lair of evil in remote places is a powerful one, retold regularly in the form of the backwoods horror - and now in the unconventional and strange Honeydew.
Rylie (Malin Barr) and Sam (Sawyer Spielberg) are the archetypical 20-somethings heading into the heartland when, wouldn't you know it, a broken-down car, a friendly farmhouse, an offer of a place to spend the night. You know, all the red flags in any fairy tale or rural horror, but it would be rude to reject the kindness of the nice if peculiar family that opens their door.
The family are undoubtedly odd - with Barbara Kingsley's all-too-welcoming, not-quite-all-there mater familia, Karen, explaining that her boy Gunni (Jamie Bradley) has never been quite the same since he got kicked in the head by livestock. But odd doesn't mean dangerous, and Gunni can barely move, and she's just a nice old lady, so what possible threat can the young lovers be under?
The real MVPs here are the sound team (supervising sound editor Raphaël Ajuelos, production sound mixer Joey Horner, and foley artists Romain Sturma and Camille Thomas), complimenting writer/director/editor Devereux Milburn's pacing - but most especially composer John Mehrmann, who painstakingly patched together a mixture of strange percussion and wordless mutterings that perpetually unbalance the household. In a movie about city folks ending up in the clutches of potentially unhinged yokels, the north star is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre but here it's not for the reasons you would naturally presume. The soundscape they craft is as immersive and off-kilter as Wayne Bell's work on the killer classic.
The opening acts are a marvel of mood and tone. Nothing bad happens, but the audience has to contend with the utter strangeness of Gunni's grunts, Karen's semi-biblical ramblings about her unseen daughter, and the well-kept squalor of their home. It's a case of waiting for the other shoe to drop: If it does, then this is butchery in a very Hooper vein; If it doesn't, then Honeydew would be a bizarre comedy, akin to Greener Grass but with a more morbid undercurrent.
Yet The Texas Chain Saw Massacre famously was all about implication, and even at its grisliest it was never really stomach churning. When the malevolent intent of the family finally breaks out into daylight (heavily presaged by a lot of shots of sizzling steak), it's less like Tobe Hooper's dusty psychotronic vision of barbecue hell, and more like Butcher Boys, Duane Graves and Justin Meeks' ripsaw riff on redneck cannibals (coincidentally, written by 'Saw producer Kim Henkel). The initial sense of unease, of is it/isn't it, is given a definitive, if creatively unpleasant answer. It's a tonal shift that makes the end result sort of Wrong Turn with an MFA, and that's not a bad place to end up.
Honeydew played as part of Nightstream, a joint streaming genre event organized by Boston Underground Film Festival, Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, North Bend Film Fest, The Overlook Film Festival, and Popcorn Frights Film Festival (Oct. 8-11, www.nightstream.org).