VOD film review: Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood And Honey (2023)
Anton Bitel | On 11, Mar 2023
Director: Rhys Frake-Waterfield
Cast: Craig David Dowsett, Chris Cordell, Amber Doig-Thorne, Nikolai Leon, Maria Taylor, Natasha Rose Mills
The words “blood and honey” are metonyms of what a certain kind of film knows its audience wants, for sex and violence (not necessarily in that order) are the mainstays of B-horror, and Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey certainly delivers both, with some hilariously gratuitous toplessness and mean-spirited kills. Here, however, the “honey” is also literal, referring to that amber nectar famously craved by Winnie the Pooh in AA Milne’s classic stories of teddy bears’ adventures in the 100 Acre Woods, first told to his son, Christopher, and then published to great acclaim. Now that the copyright has lifted, Rhys Frake-Waterfield – a director, writer and producer associated with quickie cash-in schlock – has decided to put his own stamp on this much-read and Disney-fied IP. As he goes all Bambi-Meets-Godzilla on these children’s favourites, he also sets about souring their sweetness.
In a way, this is what horror does best: playing upon our infantile Freudian anxieties and darkening the rosy tint of our nostalgic world view. This is the genre where innocence is sullied, scarred, lost, although Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey is very much in the Camp Coffee neck of the horror woods – unconvincing and ersatz, and in no way full-flavoured. At least the title of Danishka Esterhazy’s The Banana Splits Movie was subtle enough not to advertise the genre-fied damage it would do to the standing of Hanna-Barbera’s late-60s children’s television show that it updated and uprooted – whereas all the mayhem to come is right there in the title of Frake-Waterfield’s film, as overtly high-concept as Snakes on a Plane or Cocaine Bear. It is quite the come-on for an audience drooling for sensation “of little brain”, but is there anywhere left for the film to go that the title has not already given away? Is there more to this than its crazy, upfront premise?
In a word, no. As the narrator (Toby Wynn-Davies) informs us over the film’s roughly animated picture-book opening, Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and the other denizens (curiously missing once the main narrative gets underway) of the 100 Acre Wood were in fact hybrid creatures – “crossbreeds which some would call abominations” – and, when Christopher Robin stopped playing with them and left for university, their sense of abandonment and deep hunger led them to eat Eeyore, to abandon the English language, and to swear vengeance upon all humankind.
Which might sound novel, but in essence makes them little different from the off-road family in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre films, the inbred clan in the Wong Turn franchise, or the stalker (Chris Cordell, who indeed also plays Piglet) terrorising apparent final girl Maria (Maria Taylor). Even the animal faces recall the similarly home-invading, blood-graffitiing killers from Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, or the bear-costumed murderer from Robert Deubel’s Girls Nite Out. Unmask Pooh (Craig David Dowsett) and Piglet, and all that remains is a pair of bog-standard slashers of the mute and monstrous variety, complete with a quintet of young vacationing women (including Maria) as the clichéd co-ed honeys for their pot – as well as some random tourists, local rednecks, and a confused Christopher Robin (Nikolai Leon) himself, towards whom Pooh harbours a special hostility.
There is nothing, of course, wrong with a slasher, but Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey suggests it will add much while in fact bringing little. The killers’ back story is too ridiculous to engage, while their characterisation is near non-existent. The many victims go through their motions and utter their perfunctory lines (typically more than once) with about as much conviction as the viewer.
The cat-and-mouse business is oddly – and unnecessarily – plodding in pace. Inexplicably, some local characters have faux-American accents while others do not (although it is funny to hear one guy call the big bear a “nonce”). The subplot about Maria’s therapeutic journey, like the film itself, comes to a thudding halt without resolution or point, and the text at the end stating that Winnie the Pooh will return is more threat than promise. For while typical slasher franchises, such as Halloween or Friday the 13th, start off well with the original picture before quickly undoing themselves in subsequent bludgeoning iterations, here the first film already feels spent, like a pre-loved book that has been thumbed, dog-eared and chewed into a pulpy, barely legible mess.
“Please, please just stop,” Christopher Robin will beg the torture-happy, killer-by-numbers Pooh, “This isn’t you, this isn’t who I remember.” Viewers may well find themselves agreeing with him, as this once adored bear shits in the woods and soils the memory, without bringing any insight or interesting commentary to the material it is exploiting for mere title recognition. There really is a good film to be made about the dark scars of angst, guilt and trauma that the abandonment of a childhood plaything can carve into arrested adulthood – but to find it, you had better check out Karl Holt’s Benny Loves You or Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real more than this poorly concocted, psychologically tepid porridge. Pooh by name, pooh by nature.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey is out now in UK cinemas and available on digital from 20th March. It will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 17th April.