Written by Jeff Kopas, Doug Taylor
Directed by Jeff Kopas
In Jeff Kopas’ Blood Honey, we never spike the sugary endorphin boost one would experience from an indulgent dessert overload. There’s a very “The bees are family!” undertone because, yes, this is a horror/thriller about beekeeping family traditions. Suicides, estranged daughters, poison nectar – you’ve never seen a…wait for it…HIVE MIND like this. *Swigs bottle of Jack Daniels Honey* What, I’ve gotta find some kind of entertainment in this flick because it certainly wasn’t on screen.
Shenae Grimes-Beech stars as Jenibel Heath (yes, Jenibel), daughter heiress to a hunting lodge business that could be described as “cultlike.” Father Marvin (Gil Bellows) is on his deathbed, brother Neil (Kenneth Mitchell) handles daily management, sister Linda (Krystal Hope Nausbaum) keeps their pooch company – Jenibel’s return home is to a working ecosystem. Little does she know that Marvin wants her to sell “The Hive” once he passes. Jenibel has no problem conceptualizing his request since the childhood property holds suppressed memories of her mother’s suicide, but Neil has other plans. So do The Hive’s communal congregation (doctors and pilots who benefit from the Heath’s business). Sorry, Jenibel (still definitely not a typo).
You see, Jenibel is quite the busy bee in Blood Honey. She’s disallowed closure by Marvin, bruised during moonlight nature walks when visions appear, oppressed by yokel townsfolk – at any time, multiple conflicts pull Kopas’ lead in numerous directions. It’s all about psychological manifestations and torturous grief, but that doesn’t explain the mob-mentality acted on by supposedly rational humans. Pieces rarely fit into place as the script jumps between choppy tension, especially once the Shyamalan-lite final twist whirls into being – and that’s just the beginning.
I do appreciate what Kopas is going for. Somewhere between Neil LaBute’s crazed The Wicker Man remake – re: Neil’s Oliver Twist outburst – and something The Omen-ish (Mrs. Heath’s watertower jump). It’s just that outlandish notes of genre pushing fall unfavorably flat between dramatics either too dark to witness (sight wise) or without terror. Family relationships aren’t believable enough to prevent Jenibel from selling out and shipping off, nor are workman attempts to keep The Hive serving whisky and honey every night especially enthusiastic (or whatever their “house cocktail” is). Slow like the dripping of syrup, yet nowhere near as saccharine.
Let’s jump back to the film’s ending, because this is where everything unravels. Well, maybe it’s Marvin’s death – not especially camera-friendly and animation heavy – that marks Blood Honey’s slow spiral out of control, but in any case, Jenibel’s finale does no favors.
Previous to conclusions, things happen very specifically to Jenibel and Linda *separately.* At one point Linda grabs a gun and disappears, alone. Yet come the film’s end – alright, we’re entering spoiler territory until the next paragraph – it turns out that Linda died due to an allergic bee sting reaction while playing with Jenibel too close to their chain-link keeping area (metal wires with massive openings, a bee’s worst nightmare). So Jenibel is imagining Linda the whole time and people just *played along,* or – in the gun’s case – Jenibel imagined herself as Linda? It’s a bizarre discovery and unfulfilling end (despite wacky flashback scenes with Grimes-Beech talking to empty chairs).
Family is messy, deeds suck and baggage is heavy. I get it. Films have dealt with this kind of tonal heaviness before and will continue to for years to come. It’s just – Blood Honey is not one of the more intriguing vices for horror fans. From in-your-face-foreshadowing (Marvin’s showcasing of the Ruby Red *poisoned* batch of honey he kept) to a deadness around the fly-in background setting, you’ll reach for meaning only to be met with predictable outcomes. Psychological aspects are more head-scratchy than mindblowing – hard to appreciate with energies so low.
Cinematography, performances, plotting – Blood Honey is a heritage thriller that wrestles with personal intent. Either played too straight or glazed-hammy for its own good, never reigning in elements that buzz around with their own separate agendas. Sexy, sticky bodies doused in you-know-what bring the weirdness (that’s not where honey goes), just not often enough. Otherwise it’s one trip home that does little to comment on torturous themes. A tantalizing DVD cover that otherwise leads to an empty nest.
Blood Honey will leave you with a craving for something sweet when it never delivers on its decadently gruesome promise.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
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