A couple gets stranded in a remote area during the night. They seek the help of an elderly woman living on a farm with her son. What begins as an awkward encounter eventually spirals into something much more sinister.

Writer and director Devereux Milburn certainly leaves a lasting impression with his feature-film debut, Honeydew. The film follows a couple traveling through a rural part of the U.S. From the moment we meet the couple, the film is already wrought with tension. It’s clear the couple doesn’t have the best relationship at this point in time. After getting stranded because their car won’t start, the couple end up on the front door of an elderly woman who seems willing enough to help. From there, the tension gradually builds to a fever pitch. Most of this comes from the increasingly awkward and uncomfortable encounters with the elderly woman and her borderline comatose son. There is red flag after red flag letting the couple know something is very off about this family, especially the elderly women, yet their situation leaves them little option other than to stay at the house until help arrives to get their car started.

While the film definitely excels at making the audience feel uncomfortable, it also does a great job with subliminal messaging. Right from the start of Honeydew, the filmmaker utilizes voice-overs and subtle imagery to infect the mind of the audience. Some of this imagery comes from the food, videos, or even glimpses of blackened fingers. In this way, viewers who are paying keen attention can understand the “why” behind the horrific events of this film and how it relates to farming. Now, I might be going way far out on a limb here, but in many ways Honeydew feels like the antithesis of Troll 2. For those who have seen Troll 2, you will likely know it is a wild, campy film that almost acts as a piece of anti-vegetarian/vegan propaganda. On the other hand, Honeydew is a deliberate, crawling examination of the dark side of meat and farm industry. I won’t go into it more because it would lead to spoilers, but you’ll just have to watch both films and decide for yourself.

What’s interesting about Honeydew is that it is an incredibly slow burn, which might be off-putting for some, but it isn’t until the final act that the film loses me a bit. The majority of the film might be unhurried, but it keeps you on the edge of your seat with how effectively it makes you as uncomfortable as the couple is in their situation. Yet when the big reveal happens, that tension kind of fizzles. While the final moments of the film are sure to disturb audiences, they might also leave the film wishing there had been something more.

The performances in Honeydew add quite a bit to the uneasy feel of the film. Malin Barr (Lapsis, Top Dog) plays Rylie. Rylie is definitely the go-getter of the couple and has a domineering presence. Barr perfectly straddles that line of loving and overbearing when it comes to Rylie’s interactions with her boyfriend. Sawyer Spielberg (The Post) plays Sam. From the moment Spielberg is on screen, you can sense the resentment his character feels. Sam is resentful of his girlfriend, his situation, and his dietary restrictions. While both of these actors are great and play off of each other very well, there is one person who steals the show: Barbara Kingsley (Jessica Jones, The Flight Attendant) who plays the elderly homeowner, Karen. Kingsley is so entirely unnerving in her performance. The very second she opens the door for the couple, it is obvious to the audience there is something wrong about her. Kingsley’s performance continues to strengthen this feeling to the bitter end and makes the film that much more fascinating to watch.

Honeydew is a disturbing slow burn with bite. While Milburn doesn’t quite achieve a strong balance between the building of tension and a satisfying payoff at the end, it is still an incredibly strong feature-film debut. It tells a story that is as unique as it is uncomfortable. Every shot and every performance is meant to unnerve the viewers and put them in the shoes of the couple. Unfortunately, the end of the film doesn’t quite live up to the build-up. That being said, there is no doubt viewers will be thinking about the ending for a long time, whether they want to or not.


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