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Review: Atmospheric tension at center of sluggish gothic thriller 'Honeydew'

Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures


Remind me to never pitch a tent, randomly, in the woods. You’d assume a pair of good-looking twenty-somethings would have seen enough horror movies to ascertain that’s never smart, but in Devereux Milburn’s ambitious (and slow) debut “Honeydew,” it’s exactly the type of scenario which leads our characters down a familiar path of no return. Milburn’s atmospheric and moody gothic thriller builds its foundation on standard genre elements, but there’s enough unsettling madness lurking in the corridors to create a slick, uneasy, viewing experience that loses some mojo along the way.

This strange exercise in backwoods horror follows Sam and Riley (played by Sawyer Spielberg and Malin Barr) in the midst of their cross-country road-trip that’s landed them in rural New England. Riley is working on a college thesis about fungal infections and, in the hope of collecting vital data, foolishly sets up shop for the night in a local farmer’s wheat field. After that farmer catches the couple trespassing, they’re sent away but a dead car battery leaves them at the mercy of Karen (Barbara Kingsley), a nearby and offbeat elderly woman who hoards, cooks extremely rare steaks, looks after her brain dead son (Jamie Bradley) and loves company. The televisions play old Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons on repeat, further amplifying the awkward tensions, and John Mehrmann’s abnormal musical score does some heavy lifting with its cacophonous sounds and synthesizer chords screeching at opportune moments.

What entails is a cross between “Saw” and “Deliverance” as Sam and Riley end up bound, drugged, and gagged by their elderly captors. Those with weak stomachs and who don’t particularly enjoy the gooey side of horror should steer clear, but Milburn deserves credit for toppling assumptions of the torture-porn genre by giving Kingsley a juicy role that doesn’t abide by accustomed scary-movie aesthetics. If only the story – penned by Millburn and Dan Kennedy – didn’t hold Spielberg and Barr from exploring their characters’ relationship in a meaningful way. This leaves Bradley’s bizarre (and mute) performance the most realized despite his lopsided presence feeling regurgitated from countless other flicks.

Running a sluggish 107-minutes, Milburn’s editing doesn’t maintain a sense of awareness and occasionally fails to sustain itself. Considering the director’s extensive background in short form filmmaking, and “Honeydew” marking his first leap in the feature-length field, that’s not much of a surprise. His objective and artistic vision are bold indicators of a promising career, but the overall execution signals another pass through the editing bay could have benefited the audience who might check out before the closing credits.

Grade: B-

Dark Star Pictures and Bloody Disgusting will release the rural horror film HONEYDEW on VOD, Digital HD and DVD on April 13, 2021.


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