Status means survival
An indie urban drama set in Brixton, Honeytrap tells the story of a teenage girl and the tragic choices she’s forced to make to find acceptance.I’ll be the first to admit, urban dramas are not my thing. However, after a screening of Honeytrap, I was struck by its poignancy. Honeytrap is a film that challenges how society views those who make bad choices because of the world they live in, where status means survival. Full of emotional conflict, the film implores you to reconsider entrenched views on what it means to be part of gang culture.Honeytrap is inspired by true events (though it’s an amalgamation of different true incidences) and centers uniquely around Layla, a 15-year-old Trinidadian teen sent back to live with her mother, Shiree (Naomi Ryan), in Brixton. It’s easy to see Layla (played by Skins’ Jessica Sula) has had little guidance in the ways of the world, and her desire to be accepted and loved is staggeringly apparent.
There are fantastic mirror sequences where Layla mimics popular slang and alters her look to appeal to the popular girls. Her mother, a beautiful but shallow woman, is in denial of the role she should play as Layla’s moral compass. She constantly intimidates Layla and reminds her of what a burden she is. Layla quietly endures her mother’s disapproval and works to make her mother proud through her own appearance and growing status; Shiree’s harsh treatment of Layla makes their scenes together incredibly heart-rending. This treatment expertly allows the viewer a deeper look into Layla’s motivation and hunger for social acceptance.
As Layla gets situated in her new life, she actively seeks out friends but finds no one will acknowledge her because of her clothes and general naivete. The girls she craves acknowledgment from refuse to accept her into their clique until Layla agrees and executes a plan to shoplift items from a local clothing store. Sula’s acting is beautifully calibrated, and you can see her inner conflict play out on her subtly expressive face. Eventually, her overwhelming hunger for social acceptance wins out, and she heads down a dangerous path.
Full of emotional conflict, the film implores you to reconsider entrenched views on what it means to be part of gang culture.
Through her new friends, Layla gets involved with Troy (Lucien Laviscount), a rapper hoping music is his “way out”. Clearly a product of his environment, Troy is a petty criminal but isn’t necessarily a bad guy; he simply doesn’t know any other way of living. Layla is infatuated with him, but around the same time meets Shaun (Ntonga Mwanza), a quieter, gentler young man, genuinely interested in Layla and much less inclined to using his social status as a bargaining chip. Troy doesn’t tolerate Shaun, and relies on his status as gang leader to keep Shaun in check. A deadly love triangle ensues, where Layla is forced to act not only in the interest of her social status, but of her own survival, thus jeopardising Shaun’s.
Sula’s sympathetic portrayal of Layla’s corrupted innocence makes the performance completely captivating. Even though, as the title implies, Layla’s actions bring about unspeakable tragedy, it’s hard to hate her. Troy feels he must defend his social status, as that’s what he believes earns him respect. As Troy, Laviscount instills a growing sense of unease and fear throughout the film, whereas Mwanza’s Shaun is so good-natured, you’ll likely find yourself in tears at the end.
Honeytrap’s shooting style reflects a realistic rawness that one would expect of a British urban drama. According to director Rebecca Johnson, a Brixton native, Honeytrap’s main theme is based in the social injustice of misrepresenting and even crucifying teens for their life circumstances. If gang culture is what one learns, then it is only to be expected more of the same will be proliferated in the future. This message is conveyed perfectly through Johnson’s very particular directing style and nuanced writing. Edgy, gripping, and full of anticipation, Honeytrap grabs your attention and won’t let go until the very end.
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