SXSW: The Honor Farm

When a full length feature film, wanting to twist and subvert the expectations of  multiple genres barely breaks 70 minutes, you worry. The Honor Farm has lofty aspirations, but no clue on how to go about bringing it to fruition. Which is a shame, as the film iua ahir beautifully, one of the few unequivocal complimentary that can be tossed out without a step back.

For prom night, Lucy (Olivia Grace Applegate) has a plan she’s been dreaming of for years. She plans to party with her best friend (Katie Folger), lose her virginity to her boyfriend (Will Brittain) and end high school fully becoming a woman. Part of her is unsure about all this, as she is continually plagued by cryptic visions.

Things first take a turn for Lucy when her boyfriend drinks too much and get rather forceful in the back of their rented limousine. With her dreams seemingly smashed, she follows her friend Annie as they decided to join up with other kids who are planning to celebrate an “alternate prom” of sorts. This includes staking out the nearby honor farm, a prison work place abandoned years ago on the edge of town.

It’s here that The Honor Farm starts to go off the rails and not in a favorable sense. The teenagers experiment with mushrooms and soon begin to wax philosophically about the stars. Others start to have out of body experiences. Meanwhile there are whispers from Laila (Dora Madison) and JD (Louis Hunter) concerning black magic. Even later a few unexpected guests show up at the farm looking to possible perform some nefarious deeds. The only problem, one that has far reaching ramifications for the entire duration of the movie, is that none of it entirely matters.

Ambition is a great peg to stand on when it comes to horror. The last decade has seen a rise in in films made within the genre to comment on a large state in life. Allegories and metaphors can go a long way, but only if there’s a steady hand to steer the ship. In this case, there’s rudderless dingt  filled with a few good intentions that is slowly taking on water.

There is no consistent throughline for The Honor Farm. If you try to introduce elements of the supernatural, or a horror film setting or mind altering drugs, you better do something with it all. Plot points are dropped or restarted with great abandon for the first 40 or so minutes. Then, the last 30 minutes take on a different tone, all the while grasping at narrative thread to explore or ignore. It makes for an awkward watch, specially considering you can get the feel for what director Karen Kloss may have hoped to get across.

Anyone can go as far as reading background on the film to see the noble aspirations Kloss had for her subject. Tired of rote commentary concerning females in the cinematic world, Kloss wanted to make a feature that had a strong woman in the lead role, that also explored the maturation from girl to woman. She felt a positive examination would speak to a generation of women who don’t have earnest guidance in that time. That would be worth championing, but as it stands, The Honor Farm is a mess.

Maybe there’s the chance it seemed a feature length film was the best platform to examine such topics. Countless other coming of age films have mined similar territory to great effect. Had all of this been scaled back to a 40 minute experimental short, it would have forced Kloss to examine what she wanted to say and trim the fat. She does allow Lucy agency in the freedom of choice, which in this film feels like some form of victory. If only the rest of the elements of the film weren’t so desperate to stand in way of a better tale.

 

 

The Honor Farm
30%Overall Score
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