‘The Honor Farm’: An Austin original, with loads of talent

Louis Hunter, left, and Olivia Applegate, far right, in “The Honor Farm.” Credit: SXSW

Some people see “The Honor Farm” as a psychedelic metamorphosis. Others see it as a prom nightmare. Some see it as a sweet horror movie. But Austin writer/director Karen Skloss says she sees it as a ghost story.

She’s reluctant to use the word horror, in part because she’s subverting that genre. “I feel like people who are expecting traditional horror and traditional scares are going to be disappointed,” she says. “The movie uses horror themes as a way to tell a story on coming of age, in the way that ‘Donnie Darko’ uses scary elements that make movies appealing for young adults. It’s a way in.”

So, just what is “The Honor Farm”?

The quirky movie deals with two young women, Lucy and Annie, who are attending prom with two young men, and Lucy is expected to lose her virginity to her date, the high school quarterback. But he gets awfully drunk and makes crude advances, so the two girls bail on him and take up an offer from an edgy group of kids to take a trip out into the country, to go into the woods to explore an old abandoned prison where people were once allegedly tortured. It’s said to be haunted.

As you might guess, when kids go into the woods, strange things happen. And strange things especially happen when you eat a couple of psychedelic mushrooms, as Lucy and Annie do, along with their new pals.

Olivia Applegate, a Houston native and University of Texas graduate, plays Lucy with a goofiness and innocence that’s quite charming. And Applegate says she thinks the movie works, in part, because the cast “really bonded while making this movie.”

She points out that she almost abandoned acting as a career choice. “I said, ‘you know what, theater and acting are so impractical, and I’ll do philosophy and be pre-law.’ And then suddenly there’s this open casting call and it’s so right for you. And so I go in, I meet them and get cast in the movie, and that started the whole domino effect.”

She also has a role in “Song to Song,” the Terrence Malick movie that opened South by Southwest this year. “I made the cut! It’s a miracle! What’s funny, too, is that I got cast in that immediately after ‘The Honor Farm,’ ” she says.

She says she’s grateful that an acting career has opened up and she skipped law school. “I never wanted to have a real job ever,” she jokes. “I grew up in high school with all honors classes played cello, was on the tudent council. I was prom queen. I had some boyfriends who were popular, all of that stuff. And then I moved to Austin for college and started singing in a band. … I realized that I was not realized interested in being a square as I thought.”

So her role in “The Honor Farm” sort of mirrors the trajectory of her actual life, which has taken an edgy turn. “The edgy people are the interesting ones,” she says.

Much of the tension in “The Honor Farm” deals with whether the edgy new friends of Lucy and Annie are dangerous. And Skloss keeps you guess for much of the movie.

She says she tested out the dialogue with her 17-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who’s a junior at McCallum High School. “We have a close relationship… and she’s a good storyteller, and when I showed her the script, she had opinions right off the bat. Jasmine and I would read the script out loud together, and she would say, ‘No, no one would ever say that.’ She was a good teenage reader.”

Skloss adds that she’s making the movie “for her demographic, you know, like edgy young adults. And the more we worked together, the more I realized that she deserved to be credited.” So Jasmine gets a credit as co-writer.

The movie was shot a couple of years ago in and around Austin. And when you watch it, you’ll probably wonder where some of the scenes take place.

The big swimming scene was shot at Krause Springs, near Austin. The actual honor farm building was an abandoned site around San Antonio. And the big suburban development scene at the beginning of the movie was shot in Leander.

Austin folks will also probably recognized the distinct music provided by Graham Reynolds and The Black Angels. Executive producers include Louis Black, Sandy K. Boone, Nicolas Gonda and Morgan Coy. Matthias Grunsky heads up the cinematography, while Mike Saenz and Spencer Parsons provide editing. Vicky Boone headed up casting, and was crucial in recruiting Applegate and getting her the job in “Song to Song,” too.

“The Honor Farm” doesn’t have a distributor yet, so it doesn’t have a release date. But it’s a good bet that it’ll get some special screenings around Austin in the future.


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