What a cool idea for a movie: Tell a story that subverts every aspect of the horror genre, not in a satirical way but in a sweet and very mushroom-trippy way.
That’s the essence of Austin director Karen Skloss’ “The Honor Farm,” which is part of the Midnighters section at South by Southwest.
This is Skloss’ first narrative feature, after a documentary feature about being an unwed mother called “Sunshine,” but you can’t tell it by what’s on screen. It’s quite good.
The story focuses on two friends, Lucy (Olivia Applegate) and Annie (Katie Folger), who are going to prom with a couple of guys. Lucy, who has been a “good girl” all her life, is expected to go to bed with her boyfriend, the football team’s quarterback. But Lucy thinks she’s just going through some hollow ritual and wonders whether it’s worth it. She gets her answer when her boyfriend gets blind drunk and makes a move that’s stupid.
Lucy has enough sense to bail on the guy, and Annie has enough sense of adventure to accept an invitation from a group of edgy, gothy-looking kids to go to a party at an “honor farm” where prisoners were tortured, the ghosts still inhabiting the abandoned structure.
Once they go into the woods, they find some other folks who are already there, and one of them is the hunky JD, played by Louis Hunter, who offers a sensitive alternative to the drunken quarterback back at the prom.
And suddenly, coming of age doesn’t seem as scary as it once did for Lucy. But there’s this big problem. All of them have eaten psychedelic mushrooms, and their imaginations are running wild in a place where craziness has happened in the past. Will it happen again? Or will JD and Lucy find a bond that brings them through the night safely?
Applegate, a Houston native and University of Texas graduate, is a joy to watch, with a slight Diane Keaton goofiness and intellectuality. And she pairs well with the JD character played by Hunter, who’s about as far from a quarterback type as you can imagine, but still hunky.
The supporting cast, including Folger and Dora Madison Burge as Laila, are also excellent. There’s a chemistry among all the characters who go into the woods, with one exception — a rather creepy dentist. Poor dentists. They never get a break on the big screen.
“The Honor Farm” screens again at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Alamo South and at 12:15 p.m. Thursday at the Alamo South.