For many youths, prom is a rite of passage. It’s a big deal for teenagers, and the desire for everything to go well in a typically important night is cause for meltdowns. Which is what happens to Lucy, when her perfect prom evening is spoiled by a less than stellar date.  The resulting disappointment leads her to jumping into a hearse and headed for a trippy party in the woods.  What should have been a normal prom night has turned into something far more dangerous.

The creepy visuals of the Honor Farm hint at a larger supernatural element that never comes.

Director Karen Skloss’ narrative feature debut tells a coming-of-age story from a female perspective. For Olivia Applegate’s Lucy, the overarching theme is of growth, self-discovery, and learning to embrace change. Lucy overthinks her prom night in advance; whether she should lose her virginity to her date, whether the world is ending when he gets too drunk to behave like a gentleman, and if taking shrooms for the first time would be an appropriate way to forget her problems. Skloss, having co-written these teenaged characters with her teen daughter, has crafted authentic characters.  These teens feel organically teenaged.  Which also means they feel invincible to any possible danger.

It leads Lucy, her best friend, and their new acquired friends in the woods to the Honor Farm, a former prison work farm turned dilapidated compound full of graffiti, rubble, and ghosts. Already in a drug induced mind state, Lucy and her friends further cross paths with trouble when they interrupt a Satanic ritual.  The combination of shrooms and Satanic rituals amidst a haunted backdrop results in a very psychedelic trip for Lucy and her friends.

If that sounds like a fantastic horror setup, it is. Except, Skloss is so firmly focused on Lucy’s inner journey that everything else falls by the wayside. The creepy visualsof the Honor Farm hints at a larger supernatural element that never comes.  Similarly, the Satanic ritual setup in the Honor Farm’s basement serves no narrative purpose other than to lend for an otherworldly component to Lucy’s growth. As a horror film, it’s a complete failure. The horror aspect of the film is introduced solely as a plot device and disregarded when Lucy’s conquered her fears.  With no one in any real sense of danger, any suspense is deflated.

 Those going in expecting a trippy horror/thriller will find themselves very disappointed.

Skloss does have a strong aptitude for direction, and the cinematography is stunning.  Lucy’s story may not be scary, but it is beautiful. As is Lucy’s emotional growth.  Though the genre component may be a flop, the core theme and coming of age facet resonates. Navigating the waters of life when on the threshold of adulthood is confusing and scary, and Skloss has nailed that sentiment. Though, I suspect it will click far more with the female persuasion.

This is the precise type of film where expectations and categorization matters a lot.  Those going in expecting a very trippy horror/thriller will find themselves very disappointed. There’s a goldmine of story, in terms of horror, that’s completely unheeded to a frustrating degree. This isn’t a horror film, let alone a thriller. Ignore its false genre ties and go in expecting a unique, strange coming of story from a female perspective and there’s an engaging story there.

The Honor Farm made its world premiere at SXSW on March 11, 2017.