SXSW Film Review: The Honor Farm (USA, 2017) struggles with its narrative

Horror films aren’t like they used to be. Gone are the days of chainsaw wielding psychos with mummy issues and hockey mask wearing killers…. with mummy issues (I’ve stumbled upon something here). Indeed, the genre has become less about horny teenagers getting gutted in creative ways and more about utilising tropes to symbolise prevalent issues like coming-of-age.

Take The Honor Farm for instance, which screened this week at SXSW. The film follows a group of senior students who set out for a prison farm to do drugs. Oh and also, a couple of them plan on raising the dead so they can speak to a long lost friend.

Director/Writer Karen Skloss has a lot of confidence in her directionless narrative. She doesn’t really say a lot for much of the film. You’ll be over the halfway point before anything substantial happens and by that time you’ll wonder if you even care.

A majority of its time is spent fawning over its two leads JD (Louis Hunter) and Lucy (Olivia Grace Applegate) and painfully dragging out Laila’s (Dora Madison) own motivation for being at the farm: to speak to JD’s younger brother who has passed. The premise is solid, it’s the persistent lull dominating much of the film that creates its pacing issues.

The film has some wonderful artistic values, symbolising Lucy’s growth but The Honor Farm places way too much emphasis on these scenes, muddling the narrative even more than its basic story. I’m not afraid to say that I’m still completely confused as to what happened or why it did. There isn’t a clear sense of purpose or finality present but I am willing to admit that maybe I missed the point. Or maybe, the script requires more out of the box thinking than it’s simple enough story would lead you to believe. In any case, the execution misses the mark, making things far more convoluted than they ever needed to be.

Is it me? Am I the problem? Or is The Honor Farm just a tad too self indulgent and artsy for its own good? I don’t mind horror movies trying to make a point – It Follows said something and did it with a tightly wound narrative – but Lucy’s transition into a young woman takes one too many pit-stops at junctions that are never fully  explained or or feel out of place within the framework of the film.

Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Honor Farm screened as part of SXSW in Austin, Texas.