I’m a sucker for a good film set in London, and as someone who’s lived in Brixton earlier in my life, I found this story (which is set there) fascinating. That said, I don’t think its appeal is just to locals. Its themes are familiar: it’s a fish out of water story (our heroine Layla, played by the wonderful Jessica Sula) has just arrived in London from Trinidad; it’s a coming of age (she’s 15 and falling in love); and it deals with disaffected gangs of urban youth. Yet the film is careful not to just play on some sense of a threatening racialised Other — this is a community, and if Layla’s mother is wary and stand-offish, there’s a sense of bonding amongst the teenagers. And while their environment may be one of post-war council estates, these aren’t shown as dangerous concreted wastelands, but simply as the homes they were built to be. The film follows Layla, and the central drama is between her and two boys: the no-good yet effortlessly cool rapper Troy (Lucien Laviscount), and her friendly classmate Shaun (Ntonga Mwanza). The antagonism between the boys, as well as Troy’s behaviour when he’s around his male friends and their casual sexism, is conveyed very well, and while Layla is in many ways strong-willed, she finds it difficult all the same to avoid the trap of a bad relationship, which is the tragedy the film moves towards. Stylistically, the film leans heavily on an elegiac aesthetic, with plentiful use of orchestral music to replace diegetic sound, not to mention slow-motion filming, which perhaps takes away some of the visceral sting from the characters’ actions at times, but gives the film a polished sheen. This is definitely a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on. Rebecca Johnson is in excellent control of her young actors and the way that the drama unfolds on screen, and Honeytrap suggests the possibilities still inherent in local stories.
Director/Writer Rebecca Johnson; Cinematographer Annemarie Lean-Vercoe; Starring Jessica Sula, Lucien Laviscount, Ntonga Mwanza; Length 93 minutes.
Seen at Brixton Ritzy, London, Sunday 10 May 2015.