I think it’s pretty fair to say that prom night totally blows if you’re not one of the most popular kids in your school. Most of us are bookworms and waterboys, not notable enough to rent hotel rooms for raunchy after-parties or to afford a limo or to be allowed to stay out past midnight. Hell, I know that mine totally sucked (my date left midway through it to hang out with an ex of hers), and I’m guessing that most people have a pretty terrible story from that night. It’s also safe to say that prom night’s been an excellent source of material for a horror films over the years, and Karen Skloss’ Austin-set The Honor Farm looks to mine that resource for a different audience: All of the women who’ve had shitty dates with boozy breath that have tried to feel them up in the back of limousines, who dream of something better and potentially something more real. It’s an admirable goal, but the film doesn’t quite come together in the end.

Lucy (Olivia Applegate) is terrified that she’s going to wind up being like all of us plebeians. She’s going to the prom with her recently single best friend (Katie Folger) and two douchebags more concerned with getting shitfaced than paying attention to their dates. Needless to say, the night’s a bust, but as the two make their way home, they receive an invite from a pretty girl (Dora Madison) riding shotgun in a hearse to come out and party with her and her friends at an abandoned prison in the woods. Oh, and they’re all going to be doing mushrooms and walking around inside the creepy-ass, potentially haunted work camp, known locally as The Honor Farm. And who knows? Maybe she’ll have a super memorable prom after all…

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Skloss, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, may have bit off a little more than she could chew for her first narrative feature. A lot does come together — the assembled cast is a lot of fun when given character beats to work with, and the cinematography is nicely done by Matthias Grunsky, especially when in the more avant-garde segments of the film — but more often than not, it shoots itself in the foot. The humor works really well (a bathroom conversation early on between the two leads showcases their fun rapport, which is promptly forgotten about right after they meet up with the rest of their group), until it disappears around the 30-minute mark to make room for the “scares,” and it never really returns. Perhaps that’d be be for the best if the movie had any thrills, with Skloss mistaking location-based spookiness and the occasional Lynchian image (a woman sporting a deer head holding a chocolate-frosted donut being one of the true visual highlights here) as cause for pulse-racing tension. Likewise, the story and the characters suffer from the tonal inconsistency, as the story’s forced to remain in an undefined flux to support the shifts, and only a few of the characters are defined by anything other than what they say while they’re on mushrooms.

The Honor Farm just doesn’t gel in the way it should, and though there’s many occasional bright spots peppered in throughout the 70-minute runtime, there’s just not enough to make it truly memorable. It’s a shame though, as there’s real potential in the premise, and Skloss’ perspective is much needed in the dudebro-oriented world of horror.

Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus and use #VanyaSXSW for all Vanyaland’s ongoing coverage at South-By-Southwest 2017.

 

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