SXSW: The Honor Farm: Familiar and Immature

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The Honor Farm_1

Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit sxsw.com and follow SXSW on Twitter at @sxsw.

We, the audience, have an agreement in place with filmmakers when it comes to thrillers, horrors, and the like: we’ll take your build up, if you deliver a payoff. We are content to sit in mystery, to have plot points and little beats piled on top of us, because deep down, we know that there must be some kind of reward at the end of the road. Does that need to be an answer to all of the mysteries? Not necessarily. I’ll take action, gore, existential dread, hell, I’ll even take an allegory to our current societal state. But what I cannot stand for is a whole lot of nothing, which is exactly what The Honor Farm shows up with.

At its basest, The Honor Farm is a coming-of-age film, although not quite successfully.

After a moody and bleak opening, The Honor Farm starts piling on the familiar tropes. An attractive and, assumedly, popular virgin, Lucy, is readying herself for prom. Her worries and excitement all stem from the “importance” of the night, vis a vis, having some of that sweet awkward high school sex. The shocker (aka a surprise to no one) comes when her boyfriend Jake gets hammered and then ruins her dreams of creaky hotel bliss. Pissed off and heartbroken, Lucy and her best friend Annie run into a few of the stranger kids from school and voyage off on an evening of drugs and meddling with the dark unknown.

The Honor Farm_2Within The Honor Farm is a plethora of different potential paths. Its opening shots are ethereal and moody. They bestow upon the audience a feeling that this film will tread into dark areas of mystery and evil. But that’s all a distraction, because this is no true horror or even a thriller. At its basest, The Honor Farm is a coming-of-age film, although not quite successfully.

As the film pressed on, it became clear that any outside danger was overpowered by Lucy’s own inner turmoil. We are shown Lucy as a girl that is unsure of herself, struggling with the very idea of losing her virginity (an act that, in her eyes, establishes her as an adult). However, we are not truly offered any reason to believe that Lucy should be feeling anything at all. The script does nothing to imbue an individuality to Lucy and Olivia Grace Applegate’s performance isn’t able to elevate her past anything more than Mean Girl #2. Where the audience is typically shown to root for the underdog, the loser, we are instead hampered with a girl that seemingly has it all, and views being thrown up on as the impetus to completely rethink her own existence.

As the film champions the importance of prom, the immature notion that a Residence Inn is the pinnacle of romance, and the misplaced idea that mushrooms hold the key to self-enlightenment, it became clear that this was the teenager’s view of life. Writer-director Karen Skloss’ script is so hopelessly overwrought with clichés and falsely vaulted expectations, in the same way that a kid like Lucy would have written it. This immaturity bleeds throughout all the film’s moments. It’s like overhearing a 17-year-old rail on about the complexities of life, having read an introductory book on philosophy but never ventured out of his suburb. The longer the film toils the more insufferable it becomes. Please, just pick up your Pumpkin Spice Latte and move along.

Skloss uses the demonic conceits to lure those looking for a Midnight film in, but then never hands over any of the goods.

But the film isn’t all John-Hughes-wannabe and dogged attempts to place itself outside of time (how a modern film about teenagers cannot feature a single cell phone use is just plain ridiculous). Skloss also attempts to fuse Lucy’s struggle with an odd satanic subplot that never reaches fruition. The titular Honor Farm is mythologized as some crossroads of the dark arts and one of the character’s whole reasoning for the visit is to indulge in a séance. Yet, despite the setup of a potential dark ritual nothing comes about. Instead it just kind of sits there, unlit candles, a bloodless blade, and a goat that remains entirely too alive. Skloss uses the demonic conceits to lure those looking for a Midnight film in, but then never hands over any of the goods.

It would be possible to forgive the bait-and-switch nature of The Honor Farm, if it did so in exchange for something fresh. There are themes at the ready in the film that seem ready made for commentary. Perhaps, a take on our societal relationship with sex, a takedown of slut shaming, or even the oddly un-feminist position that the modern view of prom so often presents. Instead, Skloss simply lays out the beginnings of these themes and sees none of them to any kind of conclusion or definitive statement. It is an empty take on absolutely nothing. The Honor Farm is not fresh, exciting, smart, or even the least be scary. It is nothing but a familiar story told in an immature fashion.

3.1 AWFUL

The Honor Farm is not fresh, exciting, smart, or even the least be scary. It is nothing but a familiar story told in an immature fashion.

  • 3.1
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About Author

Derek was the only engineer at Northeastern University taking a class on German film and turning a sociology research paper into an examination of Scorsese’s work. Now in Austin, TX, he blatantly abuses his Netflix account on the reg, although his List mocks him as it proudly sits healthily above 200. He continues to fight the stigma that being good at math means you are not any no good at writing. I good write, very much.