We’ve been here before. You’ve heard the story a hundred times. It’s been portrayed in countless scary movies and novels. A young couple is traveling in a very remote area, is forced to seek shelter, encounters some crazy people and horrific events ensue. Yes, it’s been done, but never quite like it is in Devereux Milburn’s HONEYDEW.
Riley (Malin Barr) is a botany student and has brought her boyfriend, Sam, (Sawyer Spielberg) along on a road trip to learn about an epidemic that has caused cattle to become infected and therefore impacting the economy of small, isolated farms in the area. As they’re traveling, they lose their cell phone signal and are forced to camp out for the night before heading home the next morning. Unfortunately, the site they chose was on an unfriendly local’s property and they were forced to pack it up, which is when they learn that their car battery has mysteriously died. They hike and come upon a house where they hope to use the phone to call AAA.
Riley is immediately uncomfortable upon meeting the farmer that owns the house, who is overly nice, a little strange, and more than a little off-putting. The farmer, Karen, played expertly by Barbara Kingsley, introduces them to her son, Gunni (Jamie Bradley) whose face is bandaged and whom she says has suffered a kick to the head in an animal attack, leaving him dim-witted. He doesn’t speak and sits in front of a TV watching old black and white cartoons while drinking milk through a long rubber tube and sucking on lemon wedges. Karen, who had meat frying when the couple showed up at her door, offers them dinner while they wait for a neighbor to show up to give their car a jump, wherein Riley informs her that they don’t eat meat, dairy, salt, sugar, etc. They are served a plate of veggies which Sam frustratingly gobbles up, while Riley is much more cautious. After their strange meal, they are offered cupcakes, which of course they decline. Or did they? The neighbor who was supposed to help never shows up, so Karen offers the couple a bed for the night and Sam catches Riley sneaking a forbidden cupcake while he’s in the shower. This prompts him to angrily raid the fridge and eat everything in sight, including the cupcakes. They both start hallucinating and feeling strange. And that’s when the film takes an even weirder turn…
HONEYDEW is unique in its original telling of a pretty well-known premise. The relationship between Riley and Sam is very believable. There is a strain between the two of them as Riley seems very focused in her studies and Sam, an aspiring actor, is constantly replaying lines for what is assumed to be an audition, over and over. There are definite periods of serious disconnect between them, but you can also feel how committed they are to one another through scenes of playfulness and even scenes of anger and irritability toward each other. Milburn really utilizes Barr and Spielberg’s performances in enforcing that relatability and connection with the audience. It wasn’t long before I invested in them. I was yelling at the screen, especially at Sam, who so frustratingly took everything in stride as a feeling of foreboding grew larger and larger inside of me. Kingsley totally kills it as Karen, invoking the feeling of Psycho‘s Norman Bates and the Harry Potter Universe’s Professor Umbridge all tied up in a psychotic little package. Be on the lookout for a surprise cameo by a very well-known actor who doesn’t utter a single word and is creepily effective in the film.
I must also mention the score. I have never heard anything like it in horror or anywhere else, honestly. It set the tone for the entirely strange and horrific film that HONEYDEW is. John Mehrmann, who only has two credits to his name thus far, is one to be watched. What he did for this film made me want to know everything about him and you’d better believe I will be checking out his other credited film, Loud Places. The score includes a series of sounds that play on the growing fear the viewer feels as the movie progresses. Some Seinfeld-esque cheek popping and Jason Voorhees-like breaths make this soundtrack uniquely terrifying. I cannot wait to see what John Mehrmann does next.
The split-screen shots, isolated setting, stand-up performances by the actors, especially Barbara Kingsley, and the incredibly unique and atmospheric score make HONEYDEW the best horror film I’ve seen this year. Yes, it’s still early in the year to be saying that, but I have a feeling I’ll still be saying it in December. This film makes you think you know where it’s going and then slaps you on the side of the head with a truly surprising “what the eff?” moment that will leave you staring at the screen in open-mouthed disgust.
The film is one of many being shown at this year’s Panic Fest, which takes place between April 8 through the 18th. Acquire your tickets here! Dark Star Pictures and Bloody Disgusting will release the rural horror film HONEYDEW on Video On Demand, Digital HD and DVD on April 13, 2021.