With no major Hollywood movie opening this long weekend, we instead take a peak at a little Canadian horror flick hitting screens in the hopes of catching audiences with little else to see. Blood Honey is the type of genre yarn that sneaks up on viewers. It initially appears to be one of those whiny Canadian dramas about a handful of characters visiting a house in the woods and letting their ugly feelings spill all over the place. Then the film slowly transitions into a thriller, psychological horror movie, and eventually a full on haunting tale. It’s a weird shift and one that co-writer/director Jeff Kopas doesn’t quite nail. Yet the journey is so odd and intriguing that it’s well worth taking.
Shenae Grimes-Beech stars as a young woman returning to her isolated family home for the first time in years to help out with her dying father. She’s been scared to go back because she watched her mother kill herself there as a child and obviously never got over it. Almost instantly the old awkward family dynamics kick in. The father (Gill Bellows) is prone to selfish rage, the brother (Kenneth Mitchell) is prone to taking it, the family friends (Don McKellar, Morgan Kelly) are prone to encouraging it, and the disabled sister (Krystal Hope Nausbaum) is sadly caught in the middle of it all. Then just as it starts to seem that the movie with be a dull and claustrophobic drama, daddy kills himself in front of Grimes-Beech by letting the bees from the family bee farm sting him death (aka the My Girl suicide method). It’s pretty gruesome and after that our heroine starts experiencing intense nightmares that bleed into her waking life. The family’s insistence on keeping the country home doesn’t help matters and soon things even get a little murderous.
So what we have here is a drama about grief and family traumas wrapped up inside a metaphor-laden horror film. It can be just as pretentious as it sounds, especially in the early going. However, once director Jeff Kopas pushes his film into full on genre territory, it works rather well. The nightmare visions and dreams are beautifully done, jagged shards of surreal and poignantly twisted imagery that stick in the mind. The way the filmmaker makes the audience question reality along with the protagonist works well and none of the actors give the game away. Blood Honey doesn’t come out swinging; it slowly slithers its way up your spine and catches you creeped out when you least suspect it.
Performances are surprisingly strong for this sort of thing, especially from Shenae Grimes-Beech whose slow degeneration into psychosis is painful to behold. Elsewhere McKellar and Kelly have fun subtly turning weirdos into creeps. Only Bellows and Mitchell stretch too far over the top playing the most overtly damaged and cruel characters with virtually no sense of subtlety. When Blood Honey is cooking, the mixture of character drama and psychological/supernatural horror can be fascinating. The trouble is that it takes a while to get there and Jeff Kopas spends too much time struggling to be profound in the set up when he should be getting straight to the good stuff. There are times when the movie feels like the exact type of irritating family drama that the genre elements subvert and many viewers will lose patience during the slow burn to transforming this flick into full on horror. Balancing insightful human drama and genre thrills is a difficult task and Jeff Kopas struggles at times despite his carefully constructed visuals and wonderful cast.
Still, the film is less than 90 minutes long. So it doesn’t take too long to get to the good stuff, even if it feels like it. Blood Honey might be a bit murky and overly serious, but it’s an effective little psychological shocker unafraid to get schlocky when the time comes. This is both the sort of genre flick that Canada should be making and the type of avel gazing drama the country’s film industry wastes too much time on. Oh well, at least the filmmakers finally settle on the right side of that awkward divide, even if it takes just a few stumbles to get there.