Studio: Dark Star Pictures
Director: Devereux Milburn
Writer: Devereux Milburn
Producer: Dan Kennedy, Alan Pierson
Stars: Sawyer Spielberg, Malin Barr, Barbara Kingsley, Stephen D¡¯Ambrose, Jamie Bradley, Lena Dunham
A couple stranded on a remote country road spends an unusual night with an eccentric old woman and her catatonic son.
No matter how astute a first-time viewer may be, there isn¡¯t a person on the planet, alive or dead, who could make sense out of ¡°Honeydew¡¯s¡± pre-title prologue. It remains to be seen if anyone can make complete sense out of the movie in general, and the director is included in that question.
Over a montage of farm country vistas, Lena Dunham squeaks her voice to sound like a child regurgitating Christian claptrap she heard on AM radio. Bread bakes in an oven. A smiling old woman grinds grain at a table. A cassette player records Dunham¡¯s Bible recital while she eats from a plate swirling with egg yolk and ketchup.
Cut to a funeral. A photo on the coffin shows the girl and the old woman. One of them died, presumably the girl, although it¡¯s tough to tell if the lady under a black veil is the same woman from the kitchen. Her obscured face spies a man pulling up in a truck. Not long after, a gunshot rings out, turning the heads of a priest and four mourners.
Cut to a field, then to a forest. Wearing a balaclava, the apparent hunter digs into an animal carcass until sounds draw him to a nearby barn. The man finds a lantern and starts opening a crate. Cut back to the veiled woman, then to black.
Next up are clips from a ¡®60s or ¡®70s educational film, possibly real, probably not, titled ¡°Sordico: The Genus Purpiceps.¡± While stopped at a Sunoco station, a woman we later learn is named Rylie watches the film on her phone, listening intently to its narrator talk about the ¡°sexual spore stage¡± of wheat pollination or some such. Elsewhere, a man on a toilet, Sam, bites his finger while staring at a baggie of who knows what. As he repeats a similar line again and again, we can infer Sam might be an aspiring actor rehearsing. A horizontal split screen tells us he and Rylie are together.
Opening credits accompany the split screen when Sam rejoins Rylie in the car. Rylie continues watching clips of cows and historic paintings of poisoned farmers. Sam starts driving. At the eight and a half minute-mark, the title appears.
Who are all of these people? How might they connect? What is this ¡°sordico¡± stuff all about? ¡°Honeydew¡± clearly doesn¡¯t want its audience to know these things, not yet anyway, otherwise the story structure wouldn¡¯t be so unattractively obtuse.
¡°Honeydew¡± doesn¡¯t get any less erratically experimental, although at least a plot eventually shows up. Stranded on a countryside road, Sam and Rylie look for help at a remote farmhouse. There they meet Karen, an odd old woman, and her odder son Gunni. Gunni doesn¡¯t speak. Catatonically sipping milk from a spiral straw with his head wrapped in bandages, Karen claims Gunni hasn¡¯t been the same since a bull kicked him in the head. Karen isn¡¯t exactly ordinary either. She stares strangely, ignores direct questions, collects unusual Polaroids of apparent family members, and insists that Sam and Rylie dig into her uniquely unusual home cooking.
As bizarre as Karen and Gunni may be, Sam and Rylie behave even more bizarrely. Here they are in the home of two peculiar strangers. They have no cellphone service, except for when it miraculously works for ten seconds later on so a cop can arrive for a perfectly-timed interruption. After eagerly accepting her food, Sam and Rylie also eagerly accept overnight accommodations in Karen¡¯s cellar, where Karen turns on a TV so they can watch a public access weirdo sing karaoke. You¡¯d think the first thing this couple would say to each other after finally finding a moment alone would be, ¡°Holy sh*t! How weird are these people?¡± Nope. Rylie shoots a silent stare that might say, ¡°Can you believe this?¡± Sam obliviously responds, ¡°What?¡± while Rylie snorts out an amused chuckle.
Sam makes himself so comfortable that he helps himself to a shower and masturbates. Rylie kicks back on the bed and keeps up with her sordico studies.
In defense of Sam and Rylie¡¯s near complete lack of suspicion, it¡¯s no wonder they can¡¯t tell they¡¯ve walked into a typical horror movie trap. ¡°Honeydew¡± spends so much time dawdling, it hardly seems like frights will ever hit the fan. Every stretched-out second feels like two due to a teeth-pulling pace that gorges on cutaways of dubious value. ¡°Honeydew¡± could drop 30 minutes of dead weight from its runtime if someone edited out indulgent inserts of sizzling meat, smoky radiators, and Popeye, my God, Popeye. Black-and-white clips of the spinach-eating sailor appear so frequently, I¡¯m shocked Popeye doesn¡¯t have top billing because I¡¯d swear under oath he appears onscreen more than anyone else.
All of this is an exasperatingly long distance to crawl across hot coals of tedium to reach the 75-minute mark, when ¡°Honeydew¡± finally outs itself as ¡°Texas Chainsaw Massacre¡± Lite, which shouldn¡¯t be surprising given how many times we¡¯re treated to close-ups of forks going into mouths. After this reveal, the movie somehow still has a half hour left in its tank, even though viewers are unlikely to have any patience left in theirs.
I thought about giving the film an indifferent 50/100. ¡°Honeydew¡± is definitely weird, which can be interpreted as a compliment I guess. I simply have no inspired inclination to unpack whatever it is writer/director Devereux Milburn sets out to do. Milburn might be a genius auteur in the making or a style-over-substance arthouse brat. I¡¯m not sure which after this first full feature, so I¡¯d like to hedge my bet for either outcome. He attracted Sawyer Spielberg and Lena Dunham to his quizzical project, suggesting Milburn evidently runs in the right circles if nothing else.
I settled on 40/100, and even that might be generous, to reflect that ¡°Honeydew¡± is unappetizing for almost any appetite except film philosophers who want to puzzle over a movie¡¯s meaning regardless of whether the filmmaker included one. I can¡¯t recall ever getting barely ten minutes into a movie and reaching for the Stop button while preparing to tell a publicist, ¡°Sorry, can¡¯t do this.¡± ¡°Honeydew¡± caused me to consider doing exactly that, and I wouldn¡¯t have missed out on much if I did.
Review Score: 40