In Devereux Milburn’s first feature film, HONEYDEW, a young couple are forced to seek shelter in the home of an aging farmer and her peculiar son, when they suddenly begin having strange cravings and hallucinations taking them down a rabbit hole of the bizarre.
For the release of the film, Nightmarish Conjurings had the chance to speak with Devereux Milburn about his disturbing, bat-shit insane (I mean this in a positive light) horror feature, HONEYDEW. During our chat we discussed everything from the genesis of the story, the dangers of fungi, THAT surprise cameo, and more!
**THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS RELATED TO THE FILM – READ AT YOUR OWN RISK**
Hi Devereux! I’m very excited to talk with you today about your film HONEYDEW. There’s a whole lot of horror that takes place in this film, so to start things off, how did this crazy concept come to be?
Devereux Milburn: I had been writing another script, which is a feature adaptation of a George Saunders short story, “The 400 Pound CEO,” and I’d been working on it for almost two years and I was getting frustrated and anxious about not having really directed anything for the last year or year and a half. It was taking awhile to get this other film off the ground and my friend Dan Kennedy, who shot HONEYDEW and who’s a co-producer, texted me and said, “Do you want to make a horror feature next month?” and I said, “Yeah, let’s do it,” all the while thinking this is completely impossible and will never happen. What started with the intention of us scraping together a few thousand bucks and getting our friends to act for free and crew to work for free meals, turned into something a bit larger in scale.
The concept itself, Dan had sent me the rough beginnings of an outline about a couple on a camping trip. It sort of started more as a creature film, where they’re basically tormented by this woman of the woods throughout the film. We hadn’t really put in place a real structure to it at the outset, but in a pretty short period of time it became something much deeper and more twisted and evolved. I had been writing this film about somebody who’s dealing with body image and monitoring his weight and going on diets and essentially existing in a world that didn’t seem to have any room for him. I think more subconsciously I transferred that into Sam (Sawyer Spielberg) and, in some ways, used Riley (Malin Barr) as a catalyst. I used the fungus, which is a fictionalized version of ergot as a through line to sort of relate them to someone who actually lived on the land where they plant themselves. Before the ergot concept was fully born someone had sent me an article, knowing that I was working on a horror script, about a mass poisoning that had occurred in the 1950s in a small French town. Essentially, people were developing these symptoms, they were developing gangrene and having hallucinations and sort of losing their minds and being committed to institutions, and no one really knew why but there was a pattern and they were able to trace it back to a local bakery that had been producing ergot-infected rye bread. I was just sort of struck by this and became obsessed with applying it somehow to the story that we’d already started putting together.
When it comes to horror, was that a genre that you were always interested in exploring? What are some of your favorite horror movies?
Devereux Milburn: Yeah, I’ve definitely always been into horror. I don’t know if I would qualify myself as a full-on horror geek, though I’d like to, I don’t know that I could completely live up to it (laughs). My horror obsession started with watching classic horror from the 50’s and 60’s, and then the 70’s is when I started to become more obsessed with it. Films like Don’t Look Now had a big impact on me when I was a bit younger, Eyes Without a Face, The Devils is a big one – it’s so hopeless, there is no hope for anyone and everyone is just horrible. HONEYDEW has a bit of hope and obviously an element of comedy throughout the film, sort of on the fringes. But films like The Devils, The Omen, a lot of seventies and eighties horror films; there’s definitely an intended texture that I wanted to achieve visually and a sort of vintage warmth that I definitely was looking for. My DP, Dan Kennedy, was able to execute that flawlessly and was really good at helping me realize visions and creating visual worlds. Rosemary’s Baby, I can’t help but return to despite its unfortunate director, but I’m a huge fan of that film and have been since I was a kid. The body horror element of HONEYDEW, I hadn’t really even considered it, that it would be a body horror film. I think it becomes that just because there’s no real gore or blood until later in the film, but definitely films like Audition and Raw I’m a huge fan of and had something to do with the third act.
Well actually, that segues perfectly into my next question. I know this is a major spoiler, but I have to ask, how did Lena Dunham get involved with the film?
Devereux Milburn: I had met Lena Dunham through mutual friends and we had become sort of friendly a few years before we’d really even started thinking about HONEYDEW. The girl that we had cast at Delilah had fallen through and we were really upset and I think it was either that day or later that week, I was having lunch with Lena and I had mentioned it and she immediately offered herself. I did not immediately know if it would be a good idea, I could see how it could be the type of thing that could throw people off to the point of being upset, like there was something too out of context because she’s socially is such a force. It’s not just to do with the fact that I think she’s an amazing actress and I love all the work she does, all the work she puts out, but she also has this very strong voice and I was afraid that would conflict with the other ridiculousness of what was happening in that scene. I took a week to think about it and I was able to find a way that I thought could work with the ridiculousness and kind of serve not as an Easter egg but a surprise cameo treat. I also sort of liked the idea of casting someone who looked like her so that was sort of the genesis of Lena. She came on for two days and it was so easy to work with her and she was so willing to do whatever we asked of her.
One of my favorite aspects about HONEYDEW is the unique score. It was unlike anything I’d heard before. What type of guidance, if any, did you give to composer John Mehrmann in regards to the score?
Devereux Milburn: I gave him a lot. I was very conscious of what I wanted for the score going in. I knew I wanted to start off with a sort of band saw sound, that sound you hear when they’re driving [at the beginning of the film]. I wanted to mix that sort of rusty string sound with organs and percussive melodies. He was very familiar with…he worked in church music early on and has a lot of experience with organs and harmoniums and all sorts of key instruments. So he just knows how to play every instrument but also knows how to source and create instruments and use things that sound like other things and then create his own sounds and expand on sounds. I would give him these sort of renditions of what I wanted and I also sent him some of John Brion’s score for Punch-Drunk Love and Mica Levi’s for Under the Skin, and some Jonny Greenwood stuff. We had a foundation for the general effect instruments that I wanted to use, and he would bring in a children’s xylophone for a number of scenes and would use his cheeks and his stomach to create sounds. So yeah, we had a lot of fun but it was tough too. I would send him scenes and then we changed the scene, then he’d have to change the tracks, so it was definitely a labor, but I was so happy about working with him.
HONEYDEW is now available on Video On Demand, Digital HD, and DVD. For more on the film, check out our review here.
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