Honeycomb is set in one of those archetypical small towns that are everywhere and nowhere all at once. There isn’t much to look forward to, and most of the younger people have already set their sights on someplace else. Jules (Jillian Frank) spends her days working at a snack stand, and avoiding her friends’ constant attempts to give her (and everyone else) a makeover. Millie (Rowan Wales) and Leader (Destini Stewart) try to talk Jules into bangs, hang out by the beach, and giggle over boys. Vicky (Mari Geraghty) isn’t quite as bubbly as the other three, but not quite as introspective or poetic as Willow (Sophie Bawks-Smith).
There might be nothing to do, but at least the friends have each other to do nothing with. The BFFs in Honeycomb fill their summer with beach bonfires, car rides, and parties with the local boys. None of that is as fun as it used to be, and there’s a palpable sense they are all waiting for something new to happen. The break in routine finally arrives when Willow discovers an abandoned house in the middle of the woods.
The building might not be much more than a shack, but it is something the group can claim as their own. Each of the girls hastily packs up and leaves home for a new collective life in the woods. After so much time waiting on everyone else, they’re utterly dizzy with the possibilities of making their own choices and their own rules.
Honeycomb is the debut feature film from 21-year-old director Avalon Fast, who has been making DIY shorts since early childhood, populated with a cast and crew of family and friends. This experience working with minimal resources shows in a film that seems to have a much more assured perspective and aesthetic than similarly micro-budget projects.
Sun dappled and dreamy, summer swims and hazy house parties are intercut with darker flashes of bloody cackling and shadowy makeshift altars to a folk art painted “queen” in a gilded frame on the far wall. As the girls make their lonely trek to their new home, they look more like the lost children in a fairy tale than the young women they actually are.
The group’s initial love of the life of collective effort and hedonistic parties is soundtracked by everything from local band guitar distortion to deceptively cheerful electronic beats that border on chiptunes. Thankfully, Max Graham’s score avoids tilting too far into anything too distractingly timely. The one piece of traditional pop music used is a cover of a Beatles classic. This leaves plenty of room for Honeycomb‘s sonic universe to exist outside of contemporary concerns, and helps enhance the feeling of remoteness.
Given the cast of inexperienced actors, it initially feels smart to leave the bulk of the dialog more open ended. Conversations drift across topics only loosely related to each other, character dialog often overlapping in group scenes, breezy chatter happening in the foreground while the darker edges of the narrative are left deeper in the edges of both the visual and sound mix.
However, as Honeycomb moves into darker territory, the script ( co-written by the director and co-star Emmett Roiko) and the actors begin to pull in different directions. While most of the dialog feels naturalistic and half improvised, key themes and ideas are delivered in far more structured, stagy conversations that don’t share the same rhythms of anything that surrounds them. The overall affect feels a bit too clunky, an obvious highlight on what the script wants viewers to take as portent or narrative throughline.
As the summer heat wave intensifies, the girls’ freshly minted utopia begins to constrict into a fresh hell, their closeness tightening into a cultish noose. Where ever you go, there you are, and soon old wounds and old resentments begin to fracture the formerly close knit group of friends. Millie proves that perhaps she isn’t as eager to abandon the rest of the world as her friends, bringing her sister June (Jaris Wales) to join the group. Causing further doubts as to her loyalty to the pack’s shared, secretive world, Millie makes out with Leader’s ex-boyfriend (Emmett Roiko) during a particularly raucous party.
While there are references to occult practices and Freemasonry scattered throughout Honeycomb, the young women’s ritual practice seems to be more of an ideological shield than a supernatural one. In the guise of order, the group can gleefully create chaos. Feminine socialization oft demands the subversion of anger, and even in their remote isolation that conditioning holds. The friends’ resentments and petty jealousies are cloaked under the righteous mantle of “suitable revenge”, to inevitable violent and tragic effect.
Honeycomb’s ambitions perhaps outstrip the narrative’s ability to propel its best ideas forward, and some genuinely interesting implications (particularly in regard to the source of Willow’s intimate knowledge of esoterica) are left open ended due to a tight 70 minute runtime. Yet what the script lacks in structure and focus is very nearly salvaged by how deeply the movie drenches itself in mood.
Honeycomb excels as a portrait of young women “close to being close”, be that to the more fully realized agency of adulthood or to whatever combination of work, school and travel might lie waiting for them outside of their childhood homes. None of them know if they should cling tightly to this last summer or to run as far and as fast as they can. The fear and frustration hang heavy, the desperate ache to control something bound to destroy everything. It’s a familiar time traveling terror for anyone who has ever been young, and that toxic stickiness is what makes Honeycomb linger after the credits roll, and Avalon Fast a young filmmaker worth watching out for.
Director: Avalon Fast
Writer(s): Avalon Fast, Emmett Roiko
Stars: Jillian Frank, Destini Stewart, Sophie Bawks-Smith
Release date: January 27th, 2022 (Slamdance Film Festival)
Studio/Production: Profile Pictures, OAK Motion Pictures
Run Time: 70 minutes