Honeycomb is a scrappy indie horror film making its world debut at the Slamdance Film Festival today. This is the kind of DIY movie where the cast is the crew, and it’s obviously a labor of love from 21-year-old director/co-writer/editor Avalon Fast. The film shows a lot of promise, exploring ideas about the power and danger of female friendships and the crushing tedium of early adulthood in a small town. It’s a film for viewers with a taste for this kind of lo-fi, low-budget production, and an intriguing first film from an up-and-coming director.
Bored with their humdrum lives, five girls decide to move out to an abandoned cabin in the woods and form their own society. Their rules range from the hilarious — sex is only allowed on a makeshift bed in the woods, definitely not next to the indoor sleeping pile — to the troubling. The girls adopt an eye-for-an-eye method of justice, allowing a wronged individual to seek “suitable revenge,” which goes horrifically awry as the girls’ transgressions begin to increase in severity.
The dialogue focuses mainly on kids hanging out and killing time, but it’s punctuated by the occasional line that gets stuck in your head for days. The girls decide not to tell anyone the location of the cabin, and when Leader (Destini Stewart) says goodbye to her boyfriend, she tells him, “When I want you, I’ll come get you.” As the girls make their way through a field to their new home, one intones to the rest, “Don’t pray for serenity; pray for chaos.” These lines are the perfect mix of aimless teenage anarchy and ominous horror film foreshadowing.
The girls are making up their spirituality as they go along, setting up a shrine to a deity-to-be-determined and naming as their queen a terrifying portrait of an unknown girl with giant bees flying around her head. (The Yellowjackets comparisons will fly fast and loose even though feral teenage girls are nothing new in horror, though I am thrilled that they’re so popular at the moment.) I would have liked to see Honeycomb explore this aspect more and leave out the cringe-inducing moments, like when the girls — all of whom appear to be white — hang up a dreamcatcher near their goddess-less shrine.
Honeycomb shows a great deal of potential, especially in its brief flirtations with surrealism and psychedelia. Time occasionally rewinds to immerse the viewer in the summer joys of the girls’ house party. A stop-motion sequence illustrates Jules’ (Jillian Frank) letter to her parents informing them that she’s leaving home for good. Fast has an eye for striking imagery, such as when the girls sit in a field wearing red party dresses, or a newcomer runs a knife through her curly hair as the sun shines through it.
Honeycomb is a charmingly distorted coming-of-age horror movie with an interesting take on female power. Perhaps the ideas don’t all come together, but part of the appeal of films like this is watching a new filmmaker throw things at the wall to see what sticks. Loose threads can make beautiful art, and Honeycomb’s threads are a pleasure to unravel.