‘Blood Honey’ offers a twist on those weepy indie dramas where characters wander out to a cabin in the woods and reveal all their innermost secrets in exhausting monologues. All of the staples of that tiresome form are here, but this time they also come laced with some horror movie trappings. That’ll help, right?
Shenae Grimes-Beech stars as Jenibel, a young woman returning home after years away. That home is an isolated country house with a bee farm. She’s been a little unwilling to return for years since that’s where she watched her mother commit suicide when she was a child. But return she does, reuniting with her troubled brother (Kenneth Mitchell), disabled sister (Krystal Hope Nausbaum), and disturbed father (Gil Bellows). The arrival is about as awkward as you’d expect and soon gets even worse when the dad kills himself in front of his daughter by allowing the bees in his farm to attack him. That’s not exactly a fun development, and since Jenibel already arrived haunted by nightmares of her mother’s suicide, it’s safe to say that things are only going to get worse.
What we have here is a movie about a family refusing to acknowledge their past traumas and feeling those traumas come back in the form of literal ghosts. At times, these can be nightmare flashes with splashes of blood. At other times, they’re memories that Jenibel finds herself stumbling through unexpectedly. That certainly makes for a rough ride, but also an oddly subdued one. Co-writer/director Jeff Kopas doesn’t seem quite willing to commit to making either a full-on horror film or a moody drama about regret and trauma. His film slingshots from one extreme to the other, filled with obvious visual metaphors and cheap scare gags to jolt audiences to attention whenever possible.
Within that tonally awkward horror/drama, the film is fairly well crafted. The cast commit with admirable passion. Shenae Grimes-Beech is particularly strong as the troubled lead, stumbling from one open wound of a scene to the next. Don McKellar is as charming as always as a family friend, Morgan Kelly excels as a suspicious suitor, and Kenneth Mitchell does well with a role that seems perpetually on the edge of inching too far over the top, yet never quite gets there. Gil Bellows is definitely too much as the father, but at least he dies quickly and saves the movie from ham. The cinematography and editing are gorgeous, creating a woozy sense of dread and fractured reality that keeps viewers glued to the screen no matter how close the script comes to jumping the shark (and it comes pretty damn close early and often).
As the movie wears on and the surreal scares pile up (one nightmare sex scene involving excess honey needs to be seen to be believed), Kopas seems to grow more comfortable. ‘Blood Honey’ is a predominantly a horror film on simmer, and when it cuts loose in the final act, that almost feels like an oddly tasteless way to take a human drama. Still, the movie has are a handful of good shocks, scenes and performances buried within the murky muck. There was probably either a damn fine horror movie or a decent drama to be mined from this material, but instead we’re stuck with a creaky mix of both tones that never quite meshes like it should.