By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Nikolai Leon, Maria Taylor and Craig David Dowsett
Written and directed by Rhys Frake-Waterfield
How difficult is it to turn a childhood icon into a fun-gory horror romp for grown-ups? Pretty hard, apparently. It didn’t work in THE BANANA SPLITS MOVIE (though that one probably came closest), it didn’t work in WILLY’S WONDERLAND (for all intents and purposes a Chuck E. Cheese fright flick) and it didn’t work in THE MEAN ONE (despite the best efforts of star David Howard Thornton). And it really, seriously doesn’t work in WINNIE-THE-POOH: BLOOD AND HONEY, a prime example of a clickbait-friendly project realized without a shred of wit or imagination.
BLOOD AND HONEY, currently enjoying the kind of wide release (via Fathom Events) that many superior independent horror films will never receive, seems less inspired by A.A. Milne’s Pooh stories–whose recent entry into the public domain allowed this junker to exist–than by Disney’s recent live-action CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, at least in the early going. Here, as there, an animated prologue provides the backstory of Christopher spending his childhood with Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit and Owl (Tigger, Kanga and Roo having been spared mention here), before eventually outgrowing them and leaving them behind. In this story, the woodland creatures, left to fend for themselves during a harsh winter, resort to cannibalism (turns out Eeyore had a reason to be so fatalistic) and swear vengeance against humanity in general and Christopher specifically.
This cartoon segment is the first and last time BLOOD AND HONEY exhibits the slightest bit of cleverness. Cut to the present day, and Christopher (Nikolai Leon) returns to 100 Acre Wood with his new wife Mary (Paula Coiz), where he learns of his old friends’ resentment the hard way. Pooh (Craig David Dowsett) and Piglet (Chris Cordell) are now hulking, bloodthirsty monsters, and next set their sights on a quintet of female friends on a weekend vacation at an isolated nearby house. One of them, Maria (Maria Taylor), is established in her first scene as a Troubled Young Woman Who Needs To Get Away, a character type almost as old as Milne’s writings. She’s been plagued by a stalker, and if one were to take BLOOD AND HONEY more seriously than it deserves, it would come off as a frivolous and insensitive exploitation of that issue.
A more pressing problem is that if you removed that prologue and a few name-drops along the way, BLOOD AND HONEY would be unrecognizable as a Pooh takeoff. Writer/director Rhys Frake-Waterfield makes zero attempt to actually satirize or extrapolate from his alleged source material; instead, this could be any cheap slasher schlocker about a couple of goons in animal masks terrorizing a gaggle of not-terribly-bright girls. (Pooh and Piglet aren’t even dressed in their traditional outfits; instead, Pooh seems to have raided Jason from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2’s wardrobe.) And even if a bit of slasher fare is what you’re after, this is an especially crude, foolish and generic example, from its pointless Creepy Gas Station scene on down. Beyond Maria’s past trauma, the ladies don’t have a single personality trait among them, and they consistently split up when they shouldn’t, pick up weapons they don’t use at crucial moments and otherwise do all they can to drag the movie out to feature length (which is still a mercifully brief 84 minutes).
Pooh and Piglet have no characterization either, as their stiff rubber masks leave no opportunity for facial expression, and they long ago swore never to speak again–and yet, typical of the careless approach here, one of their victims refers to them calling each other by name. They have also, despite their feral existence, somehow learned to drive cars. There is plenty of gore, though during some of the kill scenes, the generally drab cinematography gets so dark and the camerawork is so shaky that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. One waits in vain through this entire mess for a genuine scare, or honestly motivated laugh, or surprising moment, but none ever come, confirming that the filmmakers expected the concept alone to do all the work (and depressingly, it turns out they were right). In particular, you might expect Owl and/or Rabbit to make latecoming appearances, but that never happens; no doubt they’re being held for the sequel.
Certainly, the annoyingly abrupt ending makes it clear that setting up BLOOD AND HONEY as a franchise starter was more important than satisfying the audience. The end credits (which misspell “PRINCIPLE” PHOTOGRAPHY) promise that the murderous Pooh will return, and Frake-Waterfield has horrific takes on Peter Pan and Bambi in the works as well. Fool us once, shame on you…