SXSW 2017 Review: THE HONOR FARM, Navel-gazing Millennial Witchery Goes Nowhere Fast
Maybe it's just me.
Several of this decade's most acclaimed independent horror films have left me relatively cold. While I am not immune to the charms of films like The Babadook, and You're Next; there is another separate wave of new low-budget horror that I just cannot seem to get behind. Films like Sarah Adina Smith's The Midnight Swim and Osgood Perkins' The Blackcoat's Daughter (FKA February) have squandered what is clearly an immense amount of talent in telling stories with no real purpose or central conflict. Director Karen Skloss first narrative feature, pseudo-horror headscratcher The Honor Farm, falls firmly into the latter category and it makes me all the more curious if I'm the one being left behind.
Best friends Lucy and Annie plan the perfect senior prom night only to be horrendously disappointed in their experience. Lucy had planned to lose her virginity with her date, but things didn't go as planned and by the end of the night the two girls are going stag when they run into token goth girl, Laila. In the name of reclaming their evening, the trio strike out into the night to explore the local haunted decommissioned prison, The Honor Farm. What happens there will change their lives forever.
Or at least that what they want you to think.
The Honor Farm has a lot of potential. The film's dialogue is relatively well-written; all of the teenagers in the film sound like self-involved pretentious gits, but that's the kind of characters they are. About ninety-five percent of the film takes place at night in the forest, and the camera and sound crews have done an excellent job capturing the isolation of the wilderness on screen. The set-up of the film is even really solid. Teenagers trapped in a haunted prison escaping from nefarious forces? That's a movie I want to see. However, they can't seem to find a way to put the movie together that makes it go anywhere.
At seventy-four minutes, I shouldn't have time to check my watch during The Honor Farm, but I was repeatedly trying to figure out if anything was actually going to happen. Looking at the story from the outside, this is clearly a horror film, however there is no real horror in the film. A bunch of teenagers, some dealing with real trauma that would've made for some great character development, wander around the woods after getting high and stumble onto forbidden rituals. How do you not make something exciting out of that?
The Honor Farm found a way.
The combination of non-linear story-telling, interminable dream sequences, and fractured reality make the film very hard to connect with. Perhaps if Skloss and team had settled on one or even two methods of disorienting the audience instead of throwing the kitchen sink at us, The Honor Farm might have had a chance. However, every potentially fruitful opening the film gets is tossed aside in favor of self-indulgent tangents designed to illuminate the lead character's inner conflicts. That's not to say that I'm against the character having an arc, but doing it at the expense of plot, motive, story, and engagement just doesn't work for me. The Honor Farm goes nowhere and seems okay with that, I am not.