W.What’s the worst fate that could befall a vegan? You can imagine what a horror film suggests, even though Honeydew sets a course disoriented enough to obscure its true, cruel aim. Writer / director Devereux Milburn’s feature film debut is a thriller that has an appetite for the scary, let alone a thing or two to say when venturing into the middle of nowhere – and taking bites out of bites of unknown origin.
Honeydew premieres on VOD on April 13th and opens with a series of confusing sights and sounds, including a veiled elderly woman at a funeral in the country, a stout man in a balaclava catching and skinning a wild animal, and a narration, in which a woman recites a crazy religious prayer: “Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? Who is in you Whom you received from God. You are not your own You were bought for a price. ”
What all of this means is far from clear at first, and Milburn continues to stir up confusion as his attention turns to graduate student Riley (Malin Barr) reading in her car about Sordico, a poisonous spore that crops New England- Wheat infected and ultimately drove the animals to be eaten insane before they were killed altogether. At the same time, her actor friend Sam (Sawyer Spielberg) is in a bathroom rehearsing lines from a script – an introductory sequence that Milburn dramatizes through hectic cross-cuts, split screens, and multiple sources of dialogue that destabilize as much as they clarify.
Spielberg is the legendary director’s son, and his harrowing circumstances will eventually match those of a famous archaeologist in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Still, Honeydew’s true inspirations are more backwoods nightmares like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wrong Turn.
Riley is a vegan who convinced Sam to eat too, and they’re on a camping trip that leads them to a secluded field after meeting a strange mute cyclist (Joshua Patrick Dudley). After some satisfying sex, they are visited by a white-bearded gentleman named Eulis (Stephen D’Ambrose) who informs them that they are on a piece of his 500 acre estate and must move immediately. That turn of events is as troubling for Riley and Sam as it is for us, and Barr and Spielberg grasp the contentious spines of people who have just left the honeymoon phase of their relationship and are now comfortable sniffing and nudging each other. To make matters worse, the two discover their car battery is dead and force them to wander through the darkness using only their flashlights as a guide.
Milburn divides his screen into slashes, uses whiplash camera movements, and embellishes his unexpected cuts with unsettling noises, all of which create an air of upheaval, as if the film itself was infested with some strange mental ailment. Honeydew creates tension through schizoid formal means, terrifying through a series of editorial tricks and a soundscape that combines muffled singing, cowbell-like clinking, and xylophone Christmas carols – the latter become ubiquitous as soon as Riley and Sam walk past a forest bear trap (under a humming lightbulb) and the Karen (Barbara Kingsley) home. The friendly old lady’s smile is so strange that she is instantly classified as dangerous, but given their desperate need, the couple have no choice but to accept her help.
Karen’s residence is a quaint farmhouse decorated with furniture and appliances from an earlier period, and her beaming vibe manages to convince Sam and Riley to take their advice and, instead of calling AAA, seek the assistance of the car from Karen’s neighbors should wait. Meanwhile, Karen insists that they stay for dinner. It turns out that Gunni (Jamie Bradley) will also be in attendance, a young, stocky man with a bandage around his head (and on his cheek) who sits at Karen’s kitchen table watching old black and white Popeye cartoons as they watch Suck lemon wedges dipped in sugar, sip juice through long straws and gargle like someone suffering from severe head trauma. Gunni is annoying (to say the least), and so is Riley with the food Karen serves: large pieces of meat sizzling on the stove and freshly made cupcakes for dessert.
“Milburn constantly confuses the nerves with sudden aesthetic jolts and changes of perspective that become even more lingering once digestion takes place and Riley and Sam fall into a semi-hallucinatory joint.”
Riley and Sam, unwilling to be rude to their hospitable host, dig their way into this food and then – since car repairs aren’t imminent – are shown in a thoroughly eerie basement room (previously inhabited by Gunni), in which you can stay overnight. Honeydew’s characters seem more foolish and his plot more pedestrian, if not the way in which Milburn is constantly messing up nerves with sudden aesthetic jolts and changes of perspective that become even more persistent once the digestion takes place and Riley and Sam start into one to fall semi-hallucinatory fugue. Whether it’s baking bread in the oven (presumably with wheat culled from once poisonous fields) or something more sinister is almost irrelevant at some point, as the two are soon at the mercy of the forces with insane ideas of food and holiness – and, also, about the continuation of their legacy.
Honeydew may have flesh in its head, but it is never overly bloody; Milburn keeps his nastiest elements off the screen so that they can be better disturbed by suggestions. While the first half of the film maintains the tension through rough style, the latter passages proceed more slowly, with each new horror being allowed to settle in – for maximum icky potency – before a subsequent horror is kicked out to further increase the stakes. That is most likely to apply to the material’s coda, in which the director’s main bombs are teased to their breaking point and then played with appalling intent. Even if it’s obvious what’s around the corner, the orchestration of its revelations about the filmmaker’s creeping death is awkward.
When Sam calls 911 and informs the police that he needs help in a house “between Pleasant and Trouble Streets,” Honeydew drops his playfully disturbed sense of humor. For the most part, however, the really sick joke of Milburn’s film boils down to the idea that you are what you eat – or at least that what you devour often has the ability to drive you out of your ever-loving mind.