Quickly popped into the “I wasn’t expecting THAT’ file of zero pedigree, yet very effective horror surprises, writer/director Devereux Milburn’s backwoods paranoia thriller might sound like a tough assignment for all but hardened genre aficionados. Sure, this is a couple finding themselves under attack from bucolic locals in the countryside, a staple for decades before Texas Chainsaw Massacre and long after too, but the stylish presentation elevates potentially rote material. With some good acting, an innovative sound design, and a well-developed if minimalist story, Honeydew works like a deadly poison, sending a shiver up the spine without too much recourse to splattery gore.
Son of Steven, Sawyer Spielberg plays aspiring actor Sam, who heads off into the great outdoors with his botanist girl-friend Rylie (Malin Barr); unfortunately, the area where they plan to camp is private land, so the twosome end up looking for somewhere to stay with some urgency. They happen across the property of an old woman, played by Barbara Kingsley, and her morbidly obese son, but as they sit down to dinner, there’s an impending threat, but where does it come from?
Rylie has been researching the hallucinogenic properties of the local flora and fauna, so it’s no surprise when things get a little trippy. Honeydew lands somewhere between the gloopy gross-out of Cabin Fever and the pastoral hell-scape of Motel Hell, both good target areas for a first-time director to shoot for. Barr is good as a scream queen, and Spielberg adds something more here than just a name; his features are familiar for obvious reasons, and his anguish feels genuine as the depth of their hosts’ depravity becomes apparent. Honeydew is constantly on the edge of going too far, and a star cameo perhaps pitches things a little over the edge, but most horror films quickly descend into incoherence, and Honeydew never does.
Pastoral grannies are a fairly rare commodity in films; it’s something of a co-incidence to view Honeydew directly after Minari, in which a little boy’s love for his grandmother develops despite her lack of baking skills. The grandmother in Honeydew certainly makes up for her lack of social-skills with excessive home-baking antics, but the effect is very different, and her hospitality is a veritable model of a resistible social situation. ‘Don’t ever leave the house’ is one of the lessons learned during lockdown, and Honeydew’s sobering assault on our fears and anxieties manages the difficult job of making a familiar Hansel and Gretel situation feel scary all over again. It certainly sent me to bed sobered and chastened, anxiously eyeing up the moonlit countryside glimpsed through the windows in the dead of night…
Signature Entertainment presents Honeydew on UK Digital Platforms 29th March
Thanks to Signature for preview access to this title.