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(The 2017 SXSW Film Festival opened on March 10 and ran all week until March 18. HtN has you covered and GUARANTEE more coverage than any other site! Check out this review of  Karen Skloss’ The Honor Farm, a cinematic twist on the age old prom movie.)

When discussing the coming of age of teenagers in the United States, prom is a major milestone. It is supposed to be an alcohol-fueled night in a magnificently decorated hall with a perfect soundtrack. Most importantly, any remaining virgins are destined to be deflowered on prom night. All in all, prom should be an otherworldly experience. The first truly amazing night, an unadulterated expression of freedom after a decade-plus of parental (and hormonal) torment. Prom is the beginning of the rest of one’s life. At least those are the lofty expectations set by cinema and television history.

Directed by Karen Skloss, The Honor Farm challenges the cinematic notion of prom night, exposing the ritualistic behaviors and unrealistic expectations. Skloss’ interpretation of prom seems to be one of the more realistic cinematic representations, capturing the disappointments and frustrations that most people experience, specifically when it comes to the aforementioned deflowering. The Honor Farm skillfully navigates the differences between rape and the expectation (and anticipation) of sex, specifically the innate desire for the first time to be meaningful; and, first and foremost, Skloss accentuates the sheer ridiculousness of teenage relationships.

The Honor Farm is essentially told from Lucy’s (Olivia Applegate) perspective. She is purportedly one of the most beautiful girls in high school and her prom date is the football quarterback, Jake (Will Brittain). Of course Lucy takes the night way more seriously than her date does. Even Lucy’s prom dress exemplifies her unbridled attachment to the ritualistic (and historic) clichés of prom. She wants to dance, get a nice commemorative photo, and enjoy an idyllic first sexual experience. Jake, on the other hand, just wants to get drunk and gamble, because he’s an immature jock. Sex may be on Jake’s mind, but merely as a conquest to boast about afterwards. As Lucy explains, she is just “going through the motions,” which suggests that her fate is preordained. That fate, as you might guess, is dramatic disappointment.

So, yes, Lucy’s prom ends in tears and her best friend Annie’s (Katie Folger) night doesn’t fare much better. Together they spontaneously escape to at an abandoned prison, the Honor Farm, with some strangers. As part of said escape, they all partake in some shrooms – which is always a fantastic idea before walking through a spooky forest on your way to an abandoned prison. But this is all a clever setup to allow Skloss to examine another ritualistic behavior (taking psychedelics together), while further highlighting the bad decisions that teenagers tend to make when they fall prey to curiosity. Skloss utilizes this familiar horror film device to only circumvent the actual frights and violence. It is important to note that The Honor Farm is a teenage coming of age drama set in a horror film universe. And the film is all about its allusions. As the teens blindly navigate the basement tunnels of the prison, it serves as a metaphor for clumsy teenage sex. They are naively going somewhere they are not quite mature enough to go, and the experience will alter their lives forever. The teens may feel like they are deep in the woods, but in reality they are barely skimming the surface of human relationships and understanding.

Skloss’ film is a dreamy affair, one that repeatedly questions the reality of the situation. (Two early lines of narration are “How do you know if something is real?” and “When you wake up how do you know you’re not still dreaming?”) Even after multiple viewings, it is still difficult to surmise the difference between the characters’ reality and their dreams or psychedelic distortions. Speaking of psychedelic distortions, Skloss and her cast skillfully capture the ebbs and flows of the effects of mushrooms; and, cinematically, The Honor Farm really takes off once the drugs kick in, with the prison’s tribally patterned walls drenched in dark blacks accentuated by flashlights streams and beams of moonlight. Oh, and as you might expect from Skloss (former Moving Panoramas drummer), the soundtrack is quite excellent.

– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)

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