“If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended; that you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear.” Those, of course, are Puck’s famous words from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. And, having sat through all 74-minutes of Karen Skloss’s bizarre fever dream of a film, it seems like the most accurate comparison. The Honor Farm isn’t a horror film. It isn’t even a thriller. It’s a dreamlike tale of teenage angst, feminine discovery, and the idea of using rituals to create an alternate reality. I could see a lot of people being turned off by the film’s non-linear structure, particularly in the third act, but I left the film feeling more than a little refreshed and just as dazed as the characters seemed to be. What a feeling.
Lucy (Olivia Applegate) and Annie (Katie Folger) are best friends at their senior prom hoping for a night they’ll never forget but saddled with a night they hope they don’t remember. They hook up with Laila (Dora Madison), an odd girl who is going to a place called The Honor Farm, an old prison where terrible things happened decades before. She hopes to perform a séance and summon the spirit of the brother of her best friend, J.D. (Louis Hunter), who also happens to be on the excursion, along with a few others. The gang take mushrooms and most of the film seems like it could either be a heightened reality or a series of hallucinations, and it’s that uncertainty that carries the kids all the way to the former prison, eventually stumbling upon some sort of Satanic ritual being performed with Michelle Forbes and a baby goat. But nothing much really comes of that. The kids stumble back into the woods, find a waterfall, and Lucy and J.D. begin to develop a special relationship that moves Lucy to do something she’s been dreading, but now seems to have found purpose for in her life. And then, they walk off into the sunset.
Now: that might lead you to believe that not a lot happens in The Honor Farm, but that’s only if you enter the film with preconceived notions about what should happen. If you look at this film as a character piece and a film about discovery, it opens up the world a bit and you start to see the little beauties that are peppered throughout this picture. We get a surprising amount of character development with these kids, particularly the four leads, and that leads us to genuinely care about Lucy and J.D. falling for one another, and whether or not Laila communicates with her deceased friend. The filmmaker is far more concerned about those dreamlike tangents than she is about following any sort of set expectations. When the kids come across the ritual, there are a hundred ways the film could and should go. It chooses none of those paths. I have to admire a film and filmmaker that commits to the idea of a dream, because it’s bound to rub some folks the wrong way. Normally, I might have been one of those people. Not sure why it worked this time except to say it probably had something to do with the cast.
Looking like a younger Amy Seimetz (who herself is still young), Olivia Applegate is luminous as Lucy. To watch her evolution, thanks in large part to the shrooms, is really something special. She is, without a doubt, the protagonist here, and we never quite know where she is in time or space, as the filmmaker really mixes up the chronology of events towards the end. She might have been too heavy handed with it, but it certainly didn’t detract from watching a girl who had had her night ruined and her heart broken rediscover herself in the light of the moon. Sure, these are not the highest of stakes for the audience but, for Lucy, they’re fairly life changing. And Louis Hunter is equally impressive as J.D., exuding this sensitive sort of confidence that sort of makes him seem like the perfect guy, an idea he never relinquishes. Their scenes together are sweet and have this sense of important to the both of them. Lucy feels like she is missing something she has never had. J.D. feels like he’s missing something that was taken away. And the two of them find those missing pieces in one another on a very strange night.
The film was written by Jay Tonne, Jr. and Jasmine Skloss Harrison and they really do a terrific job of doing a lot with a little. This film is a lean 74-minutes and so much happens that I was shocked I hadn’t been sitting there for two hours. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I could have spent even more time with these characters just watching them able about the woods, stoned. If the writers fail in any area, it might be in the way they handle the aftermath of the ritual, particularly the absolutely wasted talents of the incredible Michelle Forbes. You don’t put someone like her in a role that could have gone to anyone and then give her next to nothing to do. It’s going to stand out. Though, I’ll admit, her donut bit was pretty delicious. But kudos to the writers for making teenagers seem like teenagers, even if they sometimes talk like the types of teenagers you usually can’t stand. It takes all types, folks. All types.
When I was younger, my friends and I used to go ghosthunting all over the place. A favorite haunt of ours was Old Bryce Mental Institution, and The Honor Farm reminded me very much of that place. And this motley gang of strangers and friends reminded me of when we would get stoned and do basically the same thing they do in this film. Maybe that’s why I connected with the film so much – it didn’t seem so far removed for me. Sure, I’ve never stumbled upon a weird Satanic ritual and gone home with an adorable baby goat, but that’s my loss. The Honor Farm isn’t for everyone, maybe not even most, but it was for me. And, if it is for you, you’re going to have the same sort of reaction I did. I really, thoroughly loved The Honor Farm. It’s difficult to describe. It’s impossible to pin down. But it’s a beautiful piece of whimsy.
Billy Ray Brewton
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