Studio: The Folding Animals
Director: Karen Skloss
Writer: Karen Skloss, Jay Tonne Jr., Jasmine Skloss Harrison
Producer: David Hartstein
Stars: Olivia Applegate, Louis Hunter, Dora Madison, Liam Aiken, Katie Folger, Mikey Reid, Mackenzie Astin
Two girls take a hallucinatory trip into a haunted farm with strange friends while recovering from a disastrous prom night.
Lucy was ready for the prom night of her life, until her boyfriend Jake sent it sideways with too much booze and an inability to take no for an answer. Fulfilling her best friend duties to the letter, Annie has consolation covered with quips, commiseration, and of course, camaraderie.
Their dates now ditched, the ladies are in limbo regarding where their evening should head next. Along comes classmate Laila, the sort of free spirited ‘bad’ girl normally not in ‘good’ girl Lucy’s orbit, with an unexpected offer to join her and some friends at the Honor Farm in the woods.
The Honor Farm was a prison work site notorious for abusing inmates until decades of disrepair turned it into an urban legend hotspot supposedly haunted by devil worshippers. It’s also an ideal place for local high schoolers to do drugs, conduct séances, and send each other on ill-advised dares, which is exactly what is about to happen.
Don’t go getting ahead of yourself by assuming “The Honor Farm” is headed toward predictable thriller territory where horny teens partying on prom night are murdered in single file fashion by a supernatural spirit or masked maniac. This group of eight teens that includes Lucy, Annie, Laila, and new object of Lucy’s eye JD is set to trip on mushrooms and split up to explore the farm’s cobwebbed tunnels. Except the horrors confronted here have to do with evolving individual identities in a time of tumultuous transition, as “The Honor Farm” is not at all the type of typical movie its premise seems to suggest.
It isn’t often that I find myself flummoxed in how to approach discussing a particular film. “The Honor Farm” is an unusual project intended to challenge perceptions of cinematic storytelling. Horror tropes are repurposed as frames for finding metaphorical meaning about rites of passage and self-discovery. We’re talking a style centered in an atypical aesthetic that is difficult to describe.
In an uncertain moment such as this, I turn to patron saint of film criticism Roger Ebert for guidance on what to tell you. Regarding writing about movies, Ebert once said, “(a film review) should give some notion to the reader of what the movie is about … (they should) still be able to read that review and know (if) they would like to go see that movie … There has to be something in there that conveys what the experience is like.”
With Ebert’s advice in mind, perhaps it’s best I represent this film in the following terms: “The Honor Farm” is like Richard Linklater and David Lynch collaborated on a tribute to John Hughes in the context of a horror movie. The end result is part comedy, part coming of age drama, part thriller, part experimental exploration of cinema. At the same time, it is none of these things. Does that make sense? Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe that nonplussed notion is essential in coming closer to understanding exactly what “The Honor Farm” is.
A majority of the movie takes place in a hallucinatory mindscape where the plotline isn’t persistent. From the drugs, from the environment, from her own internal conflict, Lucy exists simultaneously in multiple realities of her own making. The camera cuts between these visions where fact and fantasy merge. Time and truth are in flux, creating a nonlinear story with a cryptic message left to each individual to divine.
My personal worldview prevents me from connecting with “The Honor Farm.” I find its themes disjointed (it says many things without seeming to say any one thing), its editing choices odd (some sequences abruptly jump to moments where a specific action onscreen is difficult to discern), and its overall substance unrewarding (hence my difficulty in finding a firm focus to examine). Yet assigning unfavorable values to any such elements may not be fair. Because not only is it possible (likely?) that I am incapable of relating to “The Honor Farm” in the first place, perhaps I was never meant to.
I’m a man born in the back half of the 1970s. My radar has rusted into a position where tuning to a teen girl’s adulthood evolution as funneled through an amalgam of genre conventions is a proposition very far behind the eight ball. Mine is a reaction less likely for a demographic to whom the film’s unique perspective may feel fresher and more relevant.
Rather than run roughshod over what does not work for me, I’ll spilt the rating down the center and say that any given viewer may be more likely to award “The Honor Farm” only one star or the full five depending on personal preferences. Hopefully, Ebert’s wisdom guided me to give insight in ascertaining which side of that line you’ll probably fall.
The only thing I have left to add is, don’t expect a horror movie, don’t expect tangible formula, maybe don’t have any expectations at all. Whatever your expectations are, “The Honor Farm” is highly likely to invert, subvert, and convert them all at the same time.
Review Score: 50