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Honeytrap [SXSW 2015]

Other // Unrated // March 13, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Indiegogo]

Review by Jeff Nelson | posted March 15, 2015 | E-mail the Author

The film festival circuit is saturated with coming-of-age stories every year, but how many of them are actually worth checking out? Often times, a coming-of-age story is as good as its subject, and the manner in which it comes across. The majority of them speak on the behalf of white males with their family fitting into the middle-class. Most stories representing minorities are pushed towards the margins, and rarely receive much of a distribution plan. After receiving praise at its premiere at the London Film Festival, Honeytrap is one of those films that tells a story that generally doesn't receive much exposure with mainstream audiences. However, with its US premiere at SXSW, perhaps it will make some noise in the film world.

Taking place in Brixton, London, fifteen year old Layla (Jessica Sula) is moving in with her distant mother. When she meets Troy (Lucien Laviscount), she quickly becomes entranced in a life with gang activities. As she progressively loses herself within this world, she finds herself placing admirer Shaun (Ntonga Mwanza) in some serious trouble.

Honeytrap is a coming-of-age story that speaks volumes through the relationships that Layla forms with those around her. Since the film begins with her moving in with her distant mother, we never really get the chance to see how she behaved around her grandparents. However, the film heavily implies that Layla greatly lacks affection which she has been craving all of her life. Nevertheless, she proves to have a fascination with her distant mother, as she sneaks into her room, tries on clothes, and imitates her in the mirror. While a small scene, this proves to be a critical moment in the story that tells us a great deal about Layla. Her attitude continues to change throughout the duration of the film, as she struggles to find her own identity. While her mother provides her with a roof over her head, she treats Layla as an inconvenience. Even so, Layla manages to keep her composure and pull her weight around the house. Her curiosity is a motif that can be seen as she attempts to walk in the shoes of other women in her life, as she constantly tries to impress boys, friends, and her mother. The real Layla only occasionally makes an appearance, as she continues to experience a setting that she's bound to suffer in. She's a rather complex character that greatly evolves throughout the film's duration. It's just a shame that writer/director Rebecca Johnson didn't place the same care into the remainder of the characters.

Layla's life is turned completely upside down when she meets Troy. He's the generic bad boy that is in no way new to the silver screen. Much like her distant mother and superficial friends, none of these characters feel real. Layla remains as the sole genuine portrait. Even so, Honeytrap has a message underneath the coming-of-age story that explores the illusion of young love. She's caught under a trance that has her ready to do just about anything. Johnson has filled the film with symbolism that represents the ups and downs in an adolescent relationship, and how Layla's personality evolves with the emotional roller coaster. We come to care greatly for the young teenager, and we become genuinely engaged with the situations that she's involved in. As adolescents, we're forced to learn from our mistakes. However, the consequences prove to be much more intense here, as she's caught in a trap that proves to be both poisonous and thrilling for the young woman. There's a clear internal struggle occurring over the course of the film, but since there isn't any narration, the audience isn't a part of it. Rather, we see the effects of those conflicts, as Layla finds herself deeper and deeper within a trap that gives true meaning to the title of the feature.

The biggest problem about Honeytrap is that it's so conflicting. Layla is such a well-constructed character that has been brilliantly crafted by Johnson. However, almost everything else around her feels far too generic. Everything is portrayed as being black and white, with no grays in between. There doesn't appear to be any real moral struggles from the supporting rols in the film that actually improve upon Layla's plot. It plays upon many familiar plot beats, and by the time that it ends, there aren't many feelings to be felt. The film builds to a moment that should provide a massive amount of mixed emotion, but it falls a bit flat. This is an example of a film that appears much more complex than it actually is. The most frustrating thing about Honeytrap is that it feels like a real person is interacting with a world of cardboard. The environment should feel much more lively and, in this case, intimidating. Johnson has certainly delivered an interesting screenplay here, but it could use a greater amount of detail in the relationships. After all, this is a film about a young woman whose identity greatly relies on those around her.

Even if some of the characters fell a bit flat, the acting certainly didn't. Jessica Sula is absolutely phenomenal as Layla. This is a stunning performance that will stick with you long after the credits are done rolling. This may be her first role in a feature film, but she's quite impressive. She delivers a great amount of range to a character that holds many complexities underneath the surface. Sula makes the audience truly care for her character, as she continues to search for her identity. Lucien Laviscount is believable in the role of Troy, even if the character isn't quite as fleshed out as he should be. There isn't a single poor performance to note here, and Johnson does an exceptional job directing them to success.

Some of the characters and their environments may be a bit stiff, but Honeytrap remains to be a fascinating character study about a girl who deeply desires affection. It's a coming-of-age story that explores love, loss, and the pursuit of dreams. Life isn't always as it seems, as Layla begins to circle the drain. With a title that holds an abundance of meaning, writer/director Rebecca Johnson has constructed a relatively engaging drama with a main character that we can connect with. When it comes to bringing Layla to life on the silver screen, Jessica Sula is absolutely brilliant. Honeytrap is a well-paced drama with a fascinatingly complex lead. Recommended.

Honeytrap will play SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 13th, March 14th, and March 18th.




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