Today we will be dissecting the SXSW Film Festival submission titled THE HONOR FARM written and directed by Karen Skloss and Jay Tonne Jr. To give you an idea of the film, I’ll utilize the short and spoiler free synopsis located on the IMDB page:
“On prom night, a group of kids wander deep into the woods and come back forever changed.”
Whoo boy! This movie certainly is one hell of an emotional and psychological ride and I can definitely say I’ve never experienced anything like it. The film opens with an incredibly strange and sensual scene that gave me an immediate music video vibe. It reminded me of that short film that Marilyn Manson and Eli Roth did that recently surfaced. Honestly, the first 10 minutes of the film are totally irrelevant compared to the other hour and 4 minutes or so of the movie.
Our two primary lead women are Lucy (Olivia Applegate) and Annie (Katie Folger, “From Dusk till Dawn” series) and I totally loved their acting. It felt natural which was fantastic because if it WAS bad acting I would have walked away from this film with a very uncomfortable feeling. As our two female leads ditch their prom dates, they are greeted by burnouts. Laila, played by Dora Madison, invites Lucy and Annie to join her and her friends at the Honor Farm, an old abandoned prison which people perform black magic ritual at. To a lot of people, this premise may seem cliche, but believe me when I say this film is far from being cliche.
As we venture further, we are introduced to a few young gentleman, one of them being JD (Louis Hunter) who becomes another important character to the film. As the film moves along we see each of the characters personalities come to life, mainly focusing on Annie, who is more cutting-edge, and Lucy, who is a bit more reserved or a good two-shoes. What I was not expecting was for all the character to experience a mushroom trip.
This brings me into the whole psychedelic aspect of this movie. By no means is it visually engaging with psychedelic patterns or camera work, so let me explain. I always find comedy in the film industry’s portrayal of psychedelics on film, but in the case of THE HONOR FARM, it actually had a sense of realism to it. First of all, the mushrooms they eat actually look like real “cube” mushrooms (if you are curious, Google is your friend). Second off, the character JD has extremely dilated pupils throughout the film. This could have very well been his actual pupil size but if the team that worked on the film went to the length of dilating these characters eyes to create that realistic appearance than these people have blown me away. The last aspect, which is emotionally explained later in the film, is when Laila has a mild panic when she feels that she “lost” JD for a second. When you’re on a psychedelic trip, you need a type of center, a rock or some sense of stability to ground you or even bring you back to reality. When you’re “tripping” and you feel like you lose that, it can be heart-wrenching and maddening, so that scene hit real close to home for me in terms of my past experiences. I’ve had good and bad psychedelic experiences and this film did a great job portraying psilocybin mushrooms from a psychological standpoint. However, their friend Jesse (Michael Eric Reid) acting as if he was a bird was that type of goofy film industry portrayal I mentioend before.
THE HONOR FARM is not gory or brutal but there is some animal guts in a room that appear as if rituals had taken place. I’m not sure if they were real animals or not, like pig parts or something, but I appreciate that effort if that was the case and even if it wasn’t I appreciated the real look of the “parts.” To me this film seemed like a coming of age “thriller” but there wasn’t anything particularly thrilling about it. I wouldn’t consider this a horror film per say, as it wasn’t really scary, but there was a layer of tension that trudged along with the film. To be honest, I really had no idea what I was watching. There is a supernatural entity within the film that starts to unearth as the film begins to climax but I can’t tell if that’s from the drugs. I’m sure there was an underlying message to the viewer, though I am not really sure how I was supposed to digest that aspect of the film, but I would be interested to know how other people interpreted it.
Although I would typically not sit down to watch a film like this, I actually found things in this movie that I enjoyed. I feel like THE HONOR FARM plays on the sense of clarity we all seek in life and the psychedelic aspect and supernatural element of the movie was there to remind you that you can achieve certain clarity through the proper use of psychedelics, similar in ways to the teachings of Timothy Leary. Though I could be completely wrong about that, that’s how I viewed the film. If director Karen Skloss continues to make films such as THE HONOR FARM, then I will be there to seek those films out and verbalize my opinions for all you readers out there!