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DIRECTED BY: Avalon Fast
FEATURING: Sophie Bawks-Smith, Jillian Frank, Mari Geraghty, Henri Gillespi, Destini Stewart, Jaris Wales, Rowan Wales
PLOT: Five friends escape to an abandoned cabin for the summer and form an unsettling commune.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Generally I try to approach my “gut instincts” through a rational lens, but that is failing me. Avalon Fast has made a puzzling DIY mumble-core that feels infused with the spirits of both Gaspar Noë and Mark Region.
COMMENTS: But first! A bonus mini-review of the festival companion piece: Joel Potrykus‘ latest short film.
“Thing From the Factory by the Field” is, as best I can guess, Potrykus’ small-town rejoinder to Wheatley‘s A Field in England. In this American field—probably somewhere in the rust-belt, going on prior Potrykus (pre-trykus?) experience—things begin with synth-y dirge music; clattered shots of legs traversing ditches and grass; a ritualist, blindfolded ordeal; and some smart-ass, dumb-ass kids talking band names, local legends, and Jim Morrison. Maddie’s initiation into a young trio’s rock group (name not yet determined, but then neither is Maddie’s instrument) goes awry when the initiation arrow fells a demon-chicken. Maddie’s sheepishness flips as she summons her religious upbringing to guide her new companions through something kind of occult, rather silly, and, as one expects from Potrykus, a little gross.
The theme of errant behavior in nature continues with the evening’s feature, Honeycomb, a new, strange kind of something written and directed by Avalon Fast, with her friends shunted both in front of and behind the camera. This choice (or more accurately, necessity) goes a great deal to explain some of the qualms I was left with afterwards. The remainder of those qualms pertain to the subject matter on screen. Mostly. There is something missing here…
Putting that aside for the time being, the story: Willow has discovered an abandoned house in a field by a lake in the middle of nowhere. With virtually no convincing required, she and her four friends decide to abandon their drab summer lives and live together in this house; at least, for the summer. Ambitions of permanent residence flare up intermittently during the sometimes stilted, other-times organic conversations. These five young women are mirrored by five young men: buddies all in the same rock band, who have an established history of spending their summers getting blitzed together, typically with the girls along. But the guys get elbowed out as the ladies develop closer, and increasingly unhealthy, bonds with one another.
The society they form has nasty overtones of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, with its public shamings (for group cohesion), immediately applied revenge for perceived wrongs (for group cohesion), and submission to the young woman who emerges as the leader (despite her being by far the least charismatic)—also, of course, for group cohesion. Events turn nasty, while generally remaining not altogether clear. The confusion extends even to the methodology: are the actors stilted? Or playing stilted? The characters’ cognizance of the camera is intermittent, with the lads never seeming to “know” they’re being filmed. The whole shebang may well be as ponderously assembled as part of me suspects, or it may not. Regardless, I am hopeful that this is not the movie to remember Avalon Fast by: this jaded critic’s eye sees here in Honeycomb scattered pieces that allow me to imagine her molding devilish narratives in the future.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a wild, wandering, wonderous film, a dreamy, abstracted portrait of that liminal space between adolescence and adulthood.”–Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Alliance of Women Film Journalists (festival screening)