Rylie (Malin Barr) is a botany student who has been studying the fungus that grows on wheat in some parts of the country and has travelled with boyfriend Sam (Sawyer Spielberg) to New England in order to see if she can get her hands dirty with some field reports. Their relationship is a shade testy, often resorting to sarcasm and jibing, but overall they get on, even if they would be better off back in an urban area than this rural one which gets on their nerves somewhat. After a day of her investigations, the couple decides to settle down in their tent for the evening, and after a bout of sex in there, they are winding down when they hear a car engine outside. It's a farmer called Eulis (Stephen D'Ambrose), and he wants them off his land...
By this stage you should be considering that you’ve seen this all before: the naive young couple out in the hostile countryside, the locals who seem friendly yet who may be hiding a grim secret, the meaty meals that may actually be something less than salubrious, and so forth. And to an extent, that was what music video director Devereux Milburn served up, only he did not give the impression of being too wrapped up in the cliches and tropes of horror movies past, and more concerned with sustaining an atmosphere of unease for as long as he possibly could. Whether he succeeded or not was very much down to the patience of the individual viewer, as he was not going to indulge anyone who was not keen to be on his creeped-out wavelength throughout.
Therefore we had a chiller that took as much as it gave, if you were prepared to meet Milburn halfway you would find a playful sensibility mixed with a sick sense of humour and a genuine ability to get under the skin, possibly thanks to its conjuring with themes of class (town versus country) or physical disgust. That latter entered into it because Sam and Rylie's car breaks down (mysteriously - it was working fine before) when they try to leave, so they end up at a farmhouse containing pixilated OAP Karen (Barbara Kingsley) who appears glad of the company as she tells them they can stay there while the help she has phoned for arrives (another cliché: the mobile phones don't work out there). And she is keen to demonstrate her hospitality with homemade cooking, though the disgust arrives when you wonder, what precisely is in this cooking?
The couple are vegans, so we get yet another cliché (my, how they mount up) that the one thing vegans crave is a juicy steak or creamy cupcake, when the opposite is more likely, what with them being vegans and all. Initially their attraction to this food is treated like a joke on them, but by and by it is approached as a joke on us, because the meat and dairy on offer has revolting ingredients, so really the film could be on the side of the vegans, as classic of the genre The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is often highlighted as being. The situation only grows worse from there, but it was the marrying of uncomfortable visuals with an unnerving sound design (music carefully curated by John Mehrmann) that proved more experimental than any Hills Have Eyes rip-off, and to that end, while it did begin to drag when you had the measure of it, as a stylistic exercise it was very impressive indeed. Yes, the old Max Fleischer cartoons constantly on television was another lazy shorthand for creepy, but that was built on in a truly inspired dream sequence halfway through. With more discipline, this could have been the start of something special. And yes, Sawyer is the son of that Spielberg.
[Signature Entertainment presents Honeydew on Digital Platforms 29th March 2021.]