Honeydew (2021)

Director: Devereux Milburn

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Sawyer Spielberg, Malin Barr, Barbara Kingsley, Jamie Bradley, Stephen D'Ambrose, Joshua Patrick Dudley

Taking a research trip, Sam and Riley (Sawyer Spielberg & Malin Barr) stop to camp for the night, only to encounter some car trouble. The couple seek shelter at a local farm overnight, where they're at the mercy of kindly chef, Karen (Barbara Kingsley), and her peculiar son (Jamie Bradley). As the night gets on, things take a turn for the worse, when the kindness of strangers descends into hallucinogenic fuelled madness.

From early on, it's clear what is this film's biggest strength, and that's the sense of mood it inhabits. Be it little things like the artful way bear traps are lit, or the way shots transition into one another, to the otherworldly score which envelopes you whole, and even the positioning of furniture. It feels as though everything is specifically made to unsettle you, which is a strong showing from all involved, helping to so vividly bring alive this feature-debut from director Devereux Milburn.

While I have high praise for this element, it only contrasts with my feelings on what remains. Our defacto leader is Sam, played by Sawyer Spielberg, who we see reciting lines for an upcoming audition, while craving food due to a diet he's been put on. The character constantly seems on edge, as though he's about to snap at his girlfriend, which hurts the romance the film tries to portray. On the other side of the relationship is Riley, played by Malin Barr, who's using this trip to conduct research involving a fungus which has been devastating local farms. It doesn't feel like there's much to her character, sadly underserved by the material, a sense shared by the overall characters and the story.

When our couple stop at the house of Karen, played by Barbara Kingsley, she seems a kindly soul who bakes many goods. This is all an act, as her character is at the centre of a few twisted relationships, even though none feel as compelling as the film believes they are. This is especially true of a surprise cameo appearance, a distracting scene which feels as though it's winking at the audience. Once this scene occurs, the sense that everything is made to unsettle you feels like a long-distant memory. There's even a hint of Christopher Nolan here, as the sound mix drowns out key parts of the dialogue.

By the end, I was longing for something more like Martyrs. The reputation precedes Pascal Laugier's 2008 film, as it's considered the ultimate exercise in grimness with a point to make. By the end, the point ensures that viewers haven't suffered along with the characters for nothing, yet there's no such respite here. All that's left is an unrelentingly grim time which can be dazzling to watch, and that's sadly just not good enough.

Honeydew is available on Digital Platforms from 29th March