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Review: Honeydew – “It stays under the skin”

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On the surface, Honeydew is a by the numbers ‘Hillbilly horror’ film that ticks many of the standard boxes. The main characters are a young, city-dwelling couple who have travelled to rural New England, so Rylie (Malin Barr) can study a fungus that has plagued the area’s crops. Sam, played by Sawyer Spielberg (son of Steven)  is Rylie’s boyfriend, an ambitious and rather obnoxious actor, who is preoccupied with getting to grips with a new script for an upcoming audition. The couple becomes lost and almost inevitably with no phone signal, decide to make camp. After a brief and unnerving encounter with the landowner, they are asked to leave and make camp somewhere else. Their car, of course, will not start and they are forced to seek shelter and assistance in a nearby farmhouse. Karen, the elderly and not-all-there owner of the farm, played by The Straight Story’s Barbara Kingsley, offers them assistance, food and shelter.

This all sounds like standard stuff to any self-respecting fan of the horror genre. But first time director, Devereux Milburn builds a great deal of tension and uncertainty in taking his time and allowing his odd characters to just be odd in their odd world. There is an attention to detail that is uneasy and where many other films would rush through this build-up, chasing down a cheap jump scare or moment of gore, Milburn holds us in place. He forces us to spend more time than is comfortable in ordinary yet foreboding situations. The influence of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre can be felt, but not in the chainsaw-wielding, Leatherface and manic moments Hooper’s classic gave us, but in those stranger moments that felt like they lasted a little too long, knocking the audience off centre and unsettling them. This is where Honeydew sets itself apart from its many contemporaries that follow the Wrong Turn tropes.

Sawyer Spielberg makes a fair debut as a young and struggling actor, Malin Barr’s character felt underused as the only person who may have understood what was happening and why. Barbara Kingsley clearly had fun as the delirious and unhinged farm owner, Karen and the supporting cast help provide moments of madness, disgust and a few surprises.

The standout performance in the film is from Honeydew’s composer, John Mehrmann. His broken music box soundtrack combined with the sound of blades on sharpening stones is enough to send a shiver down any spine and evoked Johannes Nyholm’s 2019 descent into madness, Koko-di Koko-da.

Split screens at weird and whacky angles feature throughout and do little to add to the sense of unease and remove you from the moment. But even so, Honeydew is an intelligent, unnerving and witty departure in an overcrowded sub-genre of horror. It stays under the skin, creates a sense of unease and manages a few surprises along the way.

The Digital release is on 29th March 2021.

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