Festivals are always exciting - new films, exciting debuts, new features from much-loved and established directors - it’s always a blast. But one of the most exciting things is to see the work of brand-new artists. New voices who have come to the scene loving film (particularly horror) and are eager to make their mark and add their perspective to the filmmaking world.

Honeycomb is the debut feature from just such a filmmaker. Avalon Fast brings us a story that is part The Virgin Suicides, part Lord of the Flies, with a dash of Yellowjackets thrown in for good measure. It’s the story of a group of girls who decide to disappear into the wilderness the summer after they graduate from high school. One of the girls, Willow, has discovered an abandoned house deep in the woods. “It was almost like it called to me,” she later explained. She is feeling restless and aimless, and wants to disappear from everything she has ever known. Many of the girls feel the same, or are at least down for a bit of adventure, and agree to come with her. They pack up and leave suddenly, leaving cryptic letters to their families explaining that they have gone to find something different, to experience something new, and that they may return one day. Or they may not. That’s part of the joy of this stage of life - you are really bound to nothing.

In the woods, they create their own utopia, doing as they please, beholden to nobody. They sleep in a pile, create a prayer table (to no entity in particular), spend long afternoons swimming or basking in the sunlight and live life on their own terms. They occasionally invite their group of male friends back to the house, but only under the conduction that the boys agree to be blindfolded until their arrival, in order to keep the location a secret. This is, afterall, their space.

The girls eventually set up their own set of rules, particularly as it comes to law and order. They feel that grievances should be dealt with only by the affected parties. “Suitable Revenge” is deemed to be punishment for any and all wrongdoing. Whoever is the transgressor in the situation and does something (intentional or not) to hurt the other party, must then submit to and accept whatever form of punishment the victim deems appropriate. Harmless at first, this is one of the doorways into the slow unraveling of these characters. Though based in a certain logic, it’s not long until the punishment far outweighs the crime, and the girls find themselves succumbing to the darkest part of their natures. 

The longer the girls stay in the woods, the more disconnected from themselves and their former world they collectively become. It seems to be an exercise in how far we can stray without the structure of society and law, but there is also something else at play here. There is also (perhaps) an outside entity influencing the girls. A painting of a mysterious woman surrounded by bees was on the wall of the house when they arrived and they (perhaps unintentionally, perhaps by a force beyond their knowledge), put their prayer table right under the portrait. Eventually, one of the girls even states that she has begun praying to the beautiful woman in the painting. The film never definitively calls out any influence that this spirit might have, but certainly opens up the possibility and leaves the audience to wonder.

First employs a number of interesting techniques to bring the film beyond its minimal budget. The film is populated by non-professional actors so the delivery can be a little stilted at times, but it’s amazing to see the product of the hard work from an amazing group of individuals. Despite any limitations, you can tell that everyone involved is giving it their all, and that absolutely comes across in the final product.

Honeycomb isn’t a masterpiece; it’s a first step. A strong and fascinating first step from a new voice that I find myself excited to follow. First’s themes of womanhood, female spaces, wonder and inherent undoing are all very much my cup of tea. Seeing her first film was exciting, but the possibility of seeing more from her in the future is even more exciting.

Movie Score: 3.5/5