The Honor Farm Review [SXSW 2017]
Some of you will LOVE The Honor Farm. Let me start by saying that. A prom-night virgin plans her perfect deflowering, only to have carefully-laid plans ruined by drunkenness and the night’s “haunted” escape. It’s a tale of choices, and not being forced into an idealistic “normality.” One illuminated by director Karen Skloss’ ability to capture a full moon’s glow upon backwoods forestation. Very art-house heavy, getting caught up in poetic discussions about “now” being the only moment that will ever matter. “The past is forgotten and the future is unknown.” True about futures, but good luck “forgetting” the lack of completion that devalues The Honor Farm beyond lusty teenage daydreams (beautiful hallucinations, admittedly).
Olivia Grace Applegate stars as Lucy, a cheery teenager with romanticized hopes for prom. Take pictures, dance happily and go all the way with your high school sweetheart. The right of passage so many endure. Only Lucy’s night goes belly-up when her generic bro-friend gets hammered and makes an ass of himself. Devastated, Lucy and BFF Annie (Katie Folger) find themselves crying in front of a gas station, where Laila (Dora Madison) invites them on a journey to “The Honor Farm.” With nothing better to do, Lucy and Annie hop in a hearse and set off for the “haunted” locale where asylum patients were once tortured. Hardly the prom experience Lucy expected, but when she meets heartthrob JD (Louis Hunter) and munches some shrooms, the night takes a wild turn. Drugs are bad, kids!
Hyperbole snowballs with increasing irrelevance, as most scenes unfold during starry-eyed talks about unknown human questions. Statements about there “being no endings because time does not stand still,” or how “there’s a sunrise in every minute.” Where, you might ask? “Well, in a way,” retorts a main character, in all his infinite stoner wisdom. Imagine a boy who’s so high he chirps like a bird the whole damn movie, because that character exists in The Honor Farm. Goth kids are flaunted as Plato types, embracing the “beauty” of presence while jawing redundantly. Skloss and Jay Tonne Jr.‘s script keeps talking and talking, but never takes a breath to act on “sophisticated” ideals that ramble with know-it-all millennialism.
So, here we are. Watching a wanna-be philosopher woo some doe-eyed socialite who’s still wearing her teal dress. Scene upon scene of couples laying under the stars, while Sinclair (Liam Aiken) assembles a gigantic rock design that spirals into nothingness. No sign on “The Honor Farm” in sight, only a deer-masked figure who lurks without reason. We assume this stalker will show importance later, then finally, we reach Laila’s blackened destination. Where we’ll be broken from prose for some haunted house horror, right?
One can’t review The Honor Farm without addressing a continued tomfoolery that never embraces horror, but spoilers will be avoided. This has nothing to do with expectations, only progressing narratives. You introduce a place where hatred has been interwoven into the building’s roots. You warn of black magic. Hell, you even introduce a few unexpected guests, trippy drug-dreams and the most adorable baby goat I’ve ever seen. Yet, there is no payoff. No reassessment or twist. Lessons are not expounded upon. Characters just keep spouting the same garbled nonsense, swimming and kissing under pale moonbeams. “What if when you die, you realize life is just a big dream?” Seventy minutes of the same broad brushstrokes.
Now, I’m not saying this is a terrible ideal to put forward. Quite the opposite. Lucy’s most alluring features involve pure-white visions that touch her robed body with glitter, almost like a mythological demigod. She has nightmares of forced experiences, until freedoms of choice lead to more fulfilling experiences. The Honor Farm is about girls discovering who they are, but more importantly, being given the opportunity to do so. Not to feel pressured by society, squeezed into dresses for “rituals” like prom night (because, like, I don’t wanna be part of your system, mannnnnn!). Give these voices a platform, and fight the patriarchy that is cinematic representation. Good. Just, when you do, make sure your message is as clear as your cinematography.
The Honor Farm dazzles and shimmers under Karen Skloss’s guidance, but only visually. Characters are far more hollow than their mouthy rants might suggest, and story struggles to deliver promised goods – whether genre teases were intended or not. You will not jump as a flashlight focuses on some graffiti monster outline, nor do psychedelic confessions bring forth revelations. Olivia Grace Applegate – aka mini Natalie Portman (try and unsee that) – opens herself up to the world’s influence, but stunted archetypes support Lucy’s mystified beauty. It’s a hazy collection of picture representations that we question afterwards, timidly asking ourselves if something deeper resides in storybook vision-questing. The answer? Experiences may vary. Here’s to hoping yours is a more fulfilling one.
There is promise in The Honor Farm, but rambling archetype stoners wear out their welcome as their talky prose pushes on and on.