Festivals

Honeydew

{Panic Fest 2021} Honeydew-Cooking Up Some Tasty Rural Horror

A familiar formula gets a raucous gross-out spin in Devereux Milburn’s Honeydew out April 13th VOD and DVD everywhere.

Honeydew fully embraces its weird roots with memorable characters and killer set pieces. Just because you think you know what will happen doesn’t make the trip any less wild. The best thing about Milburn’s film is the intense commitment to the utter bizarreness. Honeydew is bonkers. Think full-on wack-a-doo cattleprod wacky. The initial setup is curiously grim and requires a bit of patience, but once the curtains are pulled back on this house of horrors, there is no letting off the throttle.

Rylie(Malin Barr) and Sam(Sawyer Spielberg) are a twenty-something couple trekking out into rural New England for a camp trip before he auditions for a role, and she completes her doctorate on a fictional wheat fungus called Sordico. She is an idealistic college student, and he is a bored actor. They are fairly insufferable before anything happens. Ryley spends the road trip watching a terrible Youtube video on the fungus, which ominously makes cattle and people sick and mad. Sam practices the same two lines repeatedly in between being browbeaten by Ryley and hating his life.

The couple’s cell coverage cuts out, and they decide to camp out in the middle of someone’s field. The owner arrives shortly after a perfunctory sex scene and demands they leave. The pair find their car’s battery is dead and strike out on foot. Instead of civilization, they find a farmhouse with lights blazing and, against all reason, decide not only to walk up but stay the night. Every signpost screams at these two bumbling morons to run, but they ignore even the most glaring of clues making the final act inevitable and oddly satisfying.

The first clue everything isn’t okay on the ranch is Karen, played with devilish abandon by Barbara Kingsley. Her grinning fiend, who is missing a few teeth and even more marbles, bakes and cooks up things best not examined in between tending to her drooling adult son. Kingsley, who enjoys every minute of her ghoulish grandmother routine, is barely there in a this is dangerous you should run kind of way.

Honeydew
Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures

An obese, wheezing, half comatose man named Gunni(Jamie Bradley), pronounced Goonie naturally, sits and watches black and white cartoons while a concerning head wound seeps blood and maybe something worse. If staring at the screen and the bloody wound wasn’t enough, he alarmingly starts seizing while Karen whispers something that you aren’t sure is designed to calm him down or scare him into submission. From there, things go very poorly for Sam and Rylie. A series of abysmal and desperately dumb decisions later, and the two find themselves on the literal chopping block.

Everything this couple does is pretty unlikable. Right after being invited to stay in the uber-creepy basement, Sam decides to grimly satisfy himself in the utilitarian dark bathroom. There is zero chance I would strip down in this wet room that looks like it’s used as a clean-up space after slaughtering animals or other things.

There’s also the nagging detail that he just had sex, so how many orgasms does this guy need? Because that isn’t as inappropriate as he can be, he also heads back upstairs to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre kitchen and helps himself to a plate of probably not meat. Ryley has him on a strictly no cholesterol diet, and his veggie dinner didn’t quite fill him up. While Sam is pumping and grinding away, Rylie sits naked, covered by a towel listening to the house’s moans and groans and other less explainable things. They should have run.

Things go on longer than they need to before we get to the meat of the scares, but when they finally arrive, they are worth it in gross-out factor alone. By the time a zombified amputee a la Boxing Helena only much heavier and even more disturbing appear, there is no escape. Honeydew is the kind of film that would work well as a double feature with Kevin Smith’s polarizing Tusk. They are both so disgusting, embarrassingly compelling, and quirky you want to stop watching but can’t help but see it through.

Some scenes should have been edited down to produce a tighter film. For example, we don’t need to hear Sam asks Gunni, who is spewing spit between gasps, if he can keep a secret. Ah yeh, dude, this half-feral man can barely talk. I feel confident he can keep his lips sealed about your salt intake. There is also a dream sequence that, although visually arresting, serves no purpose. The camera lingers a little too long on Barr’s pale blue eyes, and there are entirely too many pregnant pauses, but all of that can be forgiven by the twisted indulgence in utter madness.

Milburn was a former music video and shorts director, and that shows in the film that it plays like an extended music video. He relies on strange imagery, arresting split screenshots, and increasingly odd behaviors to define the story. Sound and music work in concert to assault the ears along with the eyes. The droning soundtrack incessantly slurps, grinds, scrapes, bubbles, and plinks its way through the entire film as if something best left unseen lives just upstairs. John Mehrmann’s soundtrack sets just the right mood. You won’t soon forget it, and it never lets up, ever.

Dan Kennedy’s cinematography is an interesting mix of angles and split screens and sickly colored shots that enhance just how diseased this place is. Set design by Kendra Eaves is spectacularly gross. Antique equipment cobbled together with wires to nowhere and duck-taped to within an inch of their lives share space with impossibly grimy surfaces and paint peeled walls. This is a Bad place with a capital B.

Honeydew is full of atmosphere. What the film lacks in concise pacing, it makes up in sheer audacity. It screams into the lemonaid soaked night; you will love me or die trying. There was a grain of an idea here that could have satisfied even the most considerable appetite but ended up probably feeding a smaller niche market. There are plenty of lovers for this kind of plucky toothless horror. If Honeydew has anything to say, it’s that moderation is the key.