A tense thriller that, unusually, starts with an escape from captivity. Great characters and atmosphere, but very patchy writing.
I’ve seen countless films about women hunted or held captive, and frankly tired of those (as I’ve mentioned before). Fortunately, there are also some in which captives escape, and Goodbye Honey, director Max Strand’s feature debut, is one of these. Don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away here: the escape takes place right at the start, and leads to the central scenario for the film. Some survivor women in films find their sense of purpose in revenge: Phoebe (Juliette Gobin) just wants her escape to stick.
Picture this: it’s the middle of the night, and a young woman is running, desperately seeking refuge. The first sign of civilization that she finds is a haulage truck parked at a rest stop so that the driver can avoid falling asleep at the wheel. This driver is Dawn (Pamela Jayne Morgan), and not knowing what to make of this stranger, she takes some convincing to let Phoebe hide in her truck. But while they are trying to meet their own conflicting agendas, the two women are cursed with one mishap after another and obliged to stay put until morning. That’s all I’m saying about the plot: you’ll have to watch it to find out how their night went.
There are two major plus points about Goodbye Honey and one major minus. How they weigh against each other may well depend on the viewer, but I’m here to tell you how it felt to me. Here’s the first plus point: for the most part, Goodbye Honey felt incredibly tense, which is ideal for a thriller. Right from the start, the mood was firmly set at “anxious”, aided by the lonely setting and the rhythmic music. The mood might not have lasted though if it wasn’t for the two leading actors; my second plus point. Morgan and Gobin carried their roles – everyday people in a bad situation – like these were roles they had always played. Morgan’s Dawn was a middle-aged woman, tired beyond belief, who just wanted to finish her job. Gobin’s Phoebe was visibly scared, so desperate that she becomes aggressive and demanding, and that felt real to this viewer. Even more real was the way that their relationship developed over the following few hours, understanding gradually growing from unease.
But, but, but… the writing. Escape is a great central theme for any thriller, but if the audience is going to continue rooting for the protagonist(s) the film has to stay exciting and avoid becoming far-fetched. Goodbye Honey’s excitement dipped badly when the plot followed first a red herring and then a flashback; both of which upset the nice, steady pace of the drama. Worse than that, the last part of the plot relied on a huge coincidence, and that’s when the writers lost my support. Considering Goodbye Honey seemed to revel in overturning tropes at first, it was disappointing that a good deal of the plot relied on a “damaged cell phone” trope too.
Even though these issues spoiled the film somewhat for me, I’ll still remember the tension and the quality characters. I do hope Strand directs another thriller, but perhaps with a better quality writer at his side. Thanks to Soho Horror Fest for this first screening outside of the USA.