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New Release Review - HONEYTRAP

A teenage girl moves to London and becomes embroiled in gang activity.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Rebecca Johnson

Starring: Jessica Sula, Lucien Laviscount, Ntonga Mwanza, Naomi Ryan



"British dramas are known for their grittiness, but grit is an element that's notably absent from Honeytrap, making it best suited for viewing in a school civics class."



In recent years UK cities have been blighted by black on black knife crime. The victims are often mere teenagers, sometimes even younger, and while many victims are gang members there are those who attempted to avoid such a lifestyle but became victims of the very troublemakers they sought to avoid. For her feature debut, writer-director Rebecca Johnson dramatises one such case, the killing of a teenage boy by a jealous gang member.
15-year-old Trinidadian Layla (Jessica Sula) arrives in London's Brixton to move in with her surly mother Shiree (Naomi Ryan), who she hasn't seen in 10 years since her parents' split. With her rabbit in the headlights expression and innocent dress style ("Why you wearin' cartoon clothes?" her mother's boyfriend mockingly asks), Layla may as well have a target painted on her back in the tough streets of South London. Her innocence is gradually chipped away, firstly by the girls she befriends at school, who force her to shoplift clothes in exchange for their friendship, and then by handsome gang member Troy (Lucien Laviscount), who seduces the awestruck Layla to the point of statutory rape.
Layla soon learns that she's but one of Troy's many conquests, and after a failed suicide attempt, she befriends Shaun (Ntonga Mwanza), a nice guy who initially wishes to be more than merely a friend to Layla, and warns her against falling in with the likes of Troy. When Troy learns of their friendship, he terrifies Layla into setting up Shaun for an ambush.
As Layla, Jessica Sula delivers a truly heartbreaking performance, and watching her naivete preyed upon by the street-hardened Londoners is a depressing experience. It's Sula who ultimately saves the film, as for the most part Honeytrap is amateurish and unconvincing, resembling a cross between the melodramatic 'Afterschool Specials' that were so popular on US TV networks during the '70s, and the 'Yoof' dramas that pepper the schedules of the UK's Channel 4. Johnson shoots the film in a bland style, occasionally entering the realm of cheesiness with Layla's dream sequences, and the locations are bereft of a lived-in quality, every room appearing as though it were freshly furnished the morning of the shoot. British dramas are known for their grittiness, but grit is an element that's notably absent from Honeytrap, making it best suited for viewing in a school civics class.
It's in the final moments that Johnson's film eventually comes alive in a jolt of terror that really should have been built up to throughout the narrative, but in focussing on the corruption of Layla and portraying her as an innocent victim of manipulation, a sour taste is left in the mouth concerning the treatment of Shaun. Despite Shaun being the victim of this horrendous real life crime, his character is relegated to an afterthought here, and I can't imagine how the poor boy's family will react to Johnson's take on this sad incident.



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