I’ve been going through a period of obsession with female-driven horror movies (thanks to Kier-La Janisse’s book House of Psychotic Women), so I was extremely excited about watching Max Strand’s directorial debut, Goodbye Honey, which features two women who just met that are forced to work together to survive an encounter with an extremely dangerous man. Despite some seriously effective tension building, a terrifying scenario and very interesting stylistic flourishes, by the end of this film, I was not left with the feeling of empowered catharsis that I expected given Goodbye Honey’s premise. My disappointment can be attributed to a lot of factors, but the most decisive blow came from some lacking character development in both of the female leads.
The film begins with a nameless young woman – the first shown victim of the kidnapper. The camera follows her as she attempts to escape from a basement while someone presumably chases her. This scene sets the precedent for what turns out to be an extremely intrusive sound design: footsteps from upstairs are so loud and booming that I was convinced it must have been a giant monster that was after this girl! This trend continues throughout the film, becoming really frustrating when one character asks, “What was that noise?”, and I couldn’t hear the noise being referenced over the music in the background. This boils down to personal preference, of course, but sometimes, to me, a quiet movie is scarier than a loud one.
In the next scene, we meet Dawn (Pamela Jayne Morgan): a middle-aged, female truck driver who, over the past 32 hours, has been driving too much and sleeping too little. She’s independent, no-nonsense, and loves her truck. She pulls over to rest at a state park in New York, where the rest of the film takes place (barring flashbacks), and where she meets Phoebe (Juliette Alice Gobin). The relationship that ensues between these two women is tumultuous to say the least: Phoebe desperately needs Dawn’s help to elude a kidnapper she’s just escaped the grip of, Dawn doesn’t trust Phoebe because she’s violent and erratic. Something’s gotta give. Phoebe’s character stays pretty consistent throughout the film – she’s frightened and on edge – but Dawn’s actions and motivations were less clear to me; she goes from threatening Phoebe with a bat if she doesn’t get off of her truck to taking a beating from some strangers because she thinks it will help in the blink of an eye.
This was where this film entered into what excited me most about its premise: a developing relationship between two women in a dangerous situation. Unfortunately, I felt like both characters went from hating each other to putting their lives on the line for one another in the course of one scene. For me, the poor development of the relationship between these two characters was amplified by the poor development of each individual character by themselves. Even after an extensive flashback showing how Phoebe got herself into the situation she’s in, I couldn’t tell you anything about her personality. The overly-stylized sequence that shows the viewers just how long Phoebe was trapped in isolation focuses more on the emotions of the kidnapper than Phoebe herself. This was an unwelcome feature of the climax of the film as well: the kidnapper (played by Paul C. Kelly) is granted a monologue while Phoebe listens helplessly.
It is a sad reality that, in the hunt for great female-led horror films (or, let’s be honest – great horror films in general), so many entries spend too much time building tension, but fail to deliver on compelling characters. I found Goodbye Honey to be technically and stylistically competent in terms of the way it was shot and edited: the film looked great. It was even scary at some points! However, by the end, I felt empty; I was able to make no connections to the people on screen or the things that happened to them. Goodbye Honey delivered scares – which is all a passable horror film needs to do – but I was hoping for something more.
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