Chock-full of used horror cliches, oversaturated with disorienting bells and whistles, and lacking a cohesive core, Devereux Milburn’s “Honeydew” feels like a bit of fluff picked off an art-house floor. “Honeydew” stars Sawyer Spielberg (yes, as in that Spielberg) as Sam and Malin Barr as Rylie, and the two are a young couple who get stranded on a camping trip. They seek shelter in the home of the off-putting Karen (Barbara Kingsley), who seems to be hiding more than she lets on. Released in U.S. theaters on April 15, 2021, the film takes us through rural wheatfields of New England horror, meandering in slick but incoherent montages (of food, an overuse of close-ups, split screens, etc.) and struggling to wade through the tension necessary to support a not just cohesive, but compelling horror narrative. Spoilers ahead.
“Honeydew”’s chief virtue also precipitates as its tremendous downfall. The film’s fixation on atmosphere, at first glance, seems tight and aesthetically well-woven, until you realise it’s just pretty wallpaper to paste over the massive cavities in its crumbling drywall of a story. We open on a discombobulating mess of cuts from flashing image to image that ultimately sets up close to nothing in the story. Jump to an inundation of split screens during our introduction to the protagonists, and the clanging soundtrack underneath keeps our headaches going long enough to ignore the gaping holes in the film’s construction. This method works well (and does, in fact, show off Milburn’s background as a music video and short film director) until the film’s tension requires more than flash to carry it. From then on, critical moments feel undercut by the lack of substance set-up throughout the film; we realise the tension hasn’t been built, but rather, has just been a plasticky veneer slogging on under the mantra of ‘fake it until you make it.’ And yet, even as a sheer drape over the film’s deep flaws, the atmosphere is the film’s main triumph, well crafted and unsettling (I have to admit, even though I’m suffering through a headache induced by the clattering and utterly unpleasant soundtrack as I write this review, it added to the atmosphere tremendously). Still, it is immensely disappointing to feel the mounting, layered dread creep up behind us throughout the film only turn on the lights and find out it’s not the hulking figure of terror we were expecting, but a dust bunny in a discount Party City Halloween costume.
“Honeydew” is a highly atmospheric, superficially tense, and surprisingly disturbing trudge around the bowels of New England in search of a point. Carried mostly by eccentric cinematography (a series of close-ups at the opening make the film feel very claustrophobic), a jangling soundtrack, and a sharply done atmosphere (the color palettes are sometimes truly delectable), “Honeydew” could have been a lot more than it turned out to be. An almost Hansel and Gretel tale that skipped the trail of sweets and went directly for the children (or, in this case, late ’20s city slickers) in the oven, the film wandered around indulgent expanses of aestheticism and atmosphere without a mind to its story or plot. It was bloated but sparse, empty but too much, too cluttered but not complex enough. Truly, “Honeydew” is the poster child for style over substance.
“Honeydew” receives a 3/5 for its well-constructed atmosphere but hollow story.
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