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Honor Farm, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Sometimes slow, sometimes surprising, usually interesting"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Well, heck, how do you say anything about why you like this movie without spoiling it? You can tie yourself up in knots talking about the fact that it surprises while trying to scrupulously avoid what sort of expectations it defies, or wondering if this bit happens too late in the movie to mention to someone who hasn't seen it but feeling you can't recommend it without pointing out how great that is - and it's kind of too peculiar to just say "trust me". But that's the sort of movie that one can really go for if it hits you just right.

It's easy to talk about what a traditional but entertaining horror hook it has, starting with two sweet girls with lousy prom dates - Lucy (Olivia Grace Applegate), the narrator, sees her boyfriend Jake (Will Brittain) get drunk and stupid right away, while her friend Annie (Katie Folger) brought a pretty much random guy (Samuel Davis) because her boyfriend just ghosted her. They wind up tagging along with another group after - gothy Laila (Dora Madison Burge), handsome JD (Louis Hunter), Jesse with the drugs (Michael Eric Reid), Zoe (Christina Christina Parrish) & Shanti (Josephine McAdam) with the promise of mushrooms and a seance at a haunted location outside of town - an honor farm once worked by prisoners whose barracks were once part of an asylum. It's spooky as heck, and soon they discover they're not the only ones there.

Things get weird, eventually, but never so weird that the audience loses track of how these are regular high-school seniors, with vague things to figure out, not really a part of what they find. And, even though we don't necessity know a whole lot about them, we like them, and don't need a whole lot of extra crisis to care about them in the moment. Writer/director Karen Skloss co-wrote the movie with her teenage daughter, and between them they shape it into something that favors present-day authenticity over nostalgia but never crawls down a rabbit hole of dense slang or kids who talk like middle-aged screenwriters.

The young cast is appealing and natural as well, with Olivia Grace Applegate and Dora Madison Burge supplying nice contrast as girls who are feeling hollow for separate reasons, and while the disappointment Applegate's Lucy feels over a bad date doesn't compare with the loss Burge's Laila is dealing with, both actresses make their characters feel like more than just the one trait, and they're part of an ensemble that balances mournfulness with sometimes broad humor, with even the minor characters able to play up both being kids with reckless curiosity and actual terror.

Kloss goes for a sort of Blair Witch feel when the kids discover that there's something going on in this creepy place, rolling with the lack of natural lighting and less-than-ideal camera angles that come from cramped quarters full of junk to fuel panic at being lost or chased, especially with half the characters high and thus even more confused. Interestingly, though, some of the film's more peculiar or unnerving sequences lean far less toward the gross-out and more toward the power and uncertainty that comes from finding pleasure in the middle of what was mortal danger a moment earlier.

That is, in fact, what I likes most about "The Honor Farm" - that this is a supernatural movie of sorts that has room for beauty as much as horror to be discovered, confidence and eccentricity that occasionally can be its own point. It manages to not be the movie I was expecting when it was either at the start or halfway through, but I kind of like the particular sort of honesty that represents.

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originally posted: 08/31/17 01:43:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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