Tired of always waiting to see what the boys want to do, five teenage girls during the summer between high school and college decide to take matters into their own hands. Why should they waste so much time playing second fiddle to Emmett (Emmett Roiko) and company’s immaturity? Why blindly accept the demands bestowed upon them by their parents through part-time jobs and curfews? Maybe they only did those things to begin with because they had no other choice. So, when Willow (Sophie Bawks-Smith) invites the others to her secret hiding place—an abandoned cabin isolated by the woods of a nearby island she’s made her own the past week—how can they say no? The freedom to live on their own terms grants the power they crave.

The question director Avalon Fast and co-writer Roiko present the young women at the center of their film Honeycomb is thus whether they’re ready for what that power holds. Is this change of environment about acquiring escape or autonomy? It’s one thing to leave their mundane existences behind to seek more (especially if most believe attending college locally will give them more of the same), but it’s another to sever all ties with civilization and create their own. The latter is what Willow seeks and Jules (Jillian Frank), Leader (Destini Stewart), and Vicky (Mari Geraghty) are completely on-board. They want full control over who visits. They want rules, punishments, and religion built on their own terms. That means a constitution, victim-initiated revenge, and a mirrored shrine for worship.

Millie (Rowan Wales) agrees to all of it, but her involvement is more about inclusion than devotion. She neither wants to be left behind nor leave behind. That means volunteering for trips back home to acquire supplies and sharing their location with her sister June (Jaris Wales)—something she vaguely mentioned out loud, but never actually asked permission from the group. These are acts that keep her at arm’s length, sowing mistrust since the others seek to sever external connection in a way that ensures they can approve any alterations to the status quo. If the boys want to party, they’ll be led blindfolded to the cabin. If the girls decide to spend the night with one, they can do so outside without tainting the feminine purity within.

The allusions to Lord of the Flies are obvious and self-referential throughout. They must be as this utopian ideal quickly dissolves into a dog-eat-dog dynamic that threatens safety as much as sanity. And while the rules they draft together are supposed to maintain a level of equality between them, each cannot help but believe she has the upper hand somehow. How could they not when their daily prayers occur in front of a mirror that makes it seem as though they themselves are God? First comes retribution for petty accidents like split coffee. Next arrives a superiority complex over visitors without “legal” standing to defend against suffering wrought by the cabin’s stewards. Eventually concrete pain makes way for emotional slights. The line forever shifting as justice turns violent.

And at the center are the bees. The honeycomb pattern beneath a portrait set-up in the cabin. Random philosophical quotes spoken in passing. Notions that everyone must be in lockstep with their queen until deciding to cut off her head and install another in her place. Is Willow the queen for starting everything? What about Leader’s alpha personality and bloodlust? One might even say Millie is number one considering how often she gets away with bending the rules to her whim. To wear that crown is to be a target either way. Because the moment her control steps on a toe is the moment everyone coveting her place joins together to take it off her head. So, tread lightly. Work to dispatch the old guard while recruiting devotees.

Enjoyment of the thematic choices on-screen must unfortunately be tempered by the fact that Honeycomb is a micro-budget film made by a group of early-twenty-somethings learning on the fly. I know that’s a non-starter for some, especially when the production value, acting, and aesthetic wear those limitations on their sleeve. Try to take this reality with a grain of salt rather than allow it to ruin the experience before you even sit down. Understand that the whole is rough around the edges because the filmmakers are too. For every instance of confused focus (some moments are unnecessarily shot as faux documentary with the girls talking to the camera despite the majority not following suit) comes a stylistic choice that only inexperience can deliver (choppy, incongruous editing proves appealing).

This is far from a perfect film with scatterbrained thoughts and revelations that may demand multiple viewings (When did Millie get that diamond tattoo and what is its significance considering its reappearance later on?), but it’s also an intriguingly idiosyncratic ride led by a team of amateurs who refuse to back down from a challenge. It’s unafraid to get dark and revels in its amoral indifference to tragedy once it inevitably appears. That’s the thing about rules. No matter how ruthless or unfair, guilt can be glossed over. Whether someone becomes the victim of a maiming or murder, those rules are less about justice than absolution. You can regret going too far while shrugging the result off as a byproduct of earned circumstance rather than any personal responsibility.

Honeycomb premiered at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.

Grade: C+

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