By RACHEL REEVES
Starring Sophie Bawks-Smith, Jillian Frank and Mari Geraghty
Directed by Avalon Fast
Written by Avalon Fast and Emmett Roiko
Authentically capturing youth on screen is an eternally moving target for filmmakers. As trends, politics, culture, and technology change, so does youth itself. While universal feelings never fail to unite generations, these slight but significant differences separate those who really get it and those who are simply trying their best. With the new film HONEYCOMB, director and co-writer Avalon Fast effectively rises to the challenge of relaying the beauty and horrors of youth by, well, currently living it.
Recently making its Quebec premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival, HONEYCOMB centers on a group of young women leaving their friends, families, and jobs behind one summer after discovering an abandoned cabin in the woods. Seeking to escape responsibility and boredom before life and college disperse them in different directions, their motivations are initially heartwarming and altruistic. However, as the heat of summer burns away social norms, constraints, and the novelty of it all, something much darker begins to seep in and take hold. Soon, the group discovers the dark potential that lives within them all as their last vestiges of innocence ride off into the sunset.
Shooting on-site in beautiful British Columbia, Fast wrangled her friends together to assist with every aspect of the film. If Fast herself wasn’t personally handling something, it was someone nearby and in her close personal circle. All the actors, crew, and creative team members call Fast a friend. This spunky, enthusiastic approach to filmmaking is ultimately what gives HONEYCOMB its strength and appeal. Authenticity is a tricky element to capture, and rarely does anything beat the real thing.
Likely due to enormous budget and technology constraints, HONEYCOMB is filmed in a cinéma vérité style. Natural lighting, locations, and scenarios dominate the film, making it feel a little gritty, just like the teens themselves. Combined with some clunky line delivery, harsh edits, sizeable continuity errors, and poor sound design, it’s an effect that will most definitely turn some viewers off. One could even call it, bad. And yet, to brush off HONEYCOMB as just an impressive teen summer project would be to miss the most valuable thing it has to offer.
In between the more obvious amateurish elements of HONEYCOMB and the familiar, LORD OF THE FLIES-esque narrative resides sheer lightning in a bottle. All of the actors look their age, are dressed in believable wardrobes, and retain an appropriate awkwardness. Existing in the moment between childhood and undeniable adulthood is enough, not just for the characters but for the entire production itself. The frustration, violence, and waves of hormonal emotion that plague “the hive” of women on-screen feel viscerally accurate. And behind it all, with a few surprisingly beautifully executed shots, is a young filmmaker with giant metaphorical balls.
Kind of like a spiritual little sister to films like Harmony Korine’s Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, or even Kids, HONEYCOMB is a bit of an enigma. It shouldn’t really exist and shouldn’t really be so captivating, but it is. For one, it’s challenging to get anyone to do anything for free, let alone a large group of teenagers in the summer. But somehow, Fast got all of her friends to join forces and create something. In an industry that values technology, money, and “quality” so highly, it’s refreshing to see anyone, let alone someone as young as Fast and her friends, take such a risk and put themselves out there in this way.
Despite all its flaws, HONEYCOMB is an engrossing and dramatically dreamy experience. Perfectly unpolished and raw, the way it addresses issues of evolving identity, independence, and boredom feels crucially valid. Unfolding like a cinematic jam session with the end destination unknown, its strength resides with that brutal honesty laid bare. While the kids in HONEYCOMB’s story most definitely have years of therapy ahead of them, the kids involved in this production are most definitely alright.