Pastoral horror isn’t everyone’s cup of herbal tea. Midsommar was a great hit with some, but left others flat. But Honeydew’s pastoral horror is truly horrifying, if a bit confusing.
Rylie (Malin Barr) is a biology student working on a master’s thesis on a fictional fungus that infects grain, causing gangrene, convulsions and madness in those that eat it. It’s a fictional fungus called Sordico, but it’s clearly a reference to Ergot, which historically may have brought about both the well-know medieval witch hunts and the less-known werewolf craze when peasants ate infected rye. She’s traveling to an affected rural area to study the infection with her boyfriend, Sam (Sawyer Spielberg)(son of Stephen Spielberg). Sam is an actor cramming for an upcoming role. Each is obsessive about their own world, but tolerant of each other. It seems a well-matched pairing.
Stuck without car or cellphone in the middle of nowhere, between fields and forest, they find a lone house with lights on and ask for help.
They meet an old lady named Karen (Barbara Kingsley) who invites them in for dinner. She seems especially interested in Sam, and sometimes fails to even acknowledge Rylie’s presence. Inside her overheated home, where she is cooking a meal for the catatonic Gunni (Jamie Bradley), whom she introduces as her son who had been kicked in the head by a cow. Which we almost immediately suspect isn’t really the truth.
Eagle-eyed viewers may notice the ends of Karen’s fingers are blackened. Like with gangrene, ya dig?
Rylie asks Karen questions about how the region was affected by Sordico, and how the local farmers survived. A tape player broadcasts tinny Christmas music into the sweltering kitchen. Gunni sucks lemon wedges and sips a whitish fluid from a bottle. The conversation is Lynchian and stilted. Karen is a genial but suspicious host.
They are stuck til morning, and they allow Karen to set them up for the night. Then the subtle, awkward menace of the film truly blossoms into danger, and ultimately to the sort of horrifying scenes that will haunt the viewer for a while.
One of the more unusual elements of this film is the music. John Mehrmann is the composer, and sometimes it sounds like ominous chanting, sometimes sharpening metal and growls and sometimes oddly like corn popping. It’s not always creepy, but it kept me feeling unbalanced throughout. In many scenes it was unclear if the sounds were something the characters could hear or if they’re just for us (the word for that distinction is “diegetic” sound — that is, diegetic sound exists in the fictional world, and non-diegetic sound is added on for the viewers only).
A little bit Midsommar, a little but Innsmouth, this is definitely the story of well-meaning outsiders falling afoul of isolated villagers who seem nice enough, but harbor no love for tourists — unless it’s tempered with pure hunger.
9 out of 10 Droplets of Horrifying Honeydew