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Disney Defiled

In “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey,” the best joke is this splatter-camp horror film’s competency; plus Goren Stolevski’s “Of an Age.”


A sensible person doesn’t go to a slasher called “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” expecting a real movie. You expect to hoot it up with weirdos, chug your beer, and amble home. You assume the filmmakers are amateurs hiding behind an absurd premise, in this case the idea that Winnie the Pooh and Piglet have gone feral, grown to the size of Jason Voorhees, and taken to utilizing the 100 Acre Wood as a hunting ground. Horror movies can tap profound emotions, but they can also be proudly stupid, allowing you access to the inner child that’s still tempted to hold a magnifying glass over bugs on a sunny day.

That inner child is given plenty of fodder in “Blood and Honey,” but the film’s best joke is its competency. The writer-director-editor, Rhys Frake-Waterfield, has a flair for pacing and atmosphere. The 100 Acre Wood is an interchangeable setting for any slasher movie and a place of malevolence. Frake-Waterfield conjures stark, authentically unnerving shadows, and the green foliage connotes a storybook purity that counterpoints Pooh and Piglet’s ultraviolent shenanigans. The sound design, particularly the heavy gait of the creatures bouncing along the forest, is surprisingly vivid. Most importantly, Frake-Waterfield understands that this is a joke that should not overstay its welcome. “Blood and Honey” runs a trim 80 minutes and is unapologetically leeched of all pretenses of character development. I’m not sure we even learn half of the characters’ names.

An animated prologue, illustrated in elegant black-and-white etchings, with a narrator who apes the dignity of those of the old Disney Pooh cartoons, tells us that Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore, and Owl are monster “crossbreds” that Christopher Robin (Nikolai Leon) befriended as a boy. When he left the 100 Acre Wood for college, they went crazy and ate Eeyore. My brother leaned over to observe that “it’s funny they ate the one that would make for the hardest costume.” Indeed, monster Pooh and Piglet are rendered with a purposeful indifference that’s funny and a little creepy. Piglet’s face doesn’t even suggest the character; he’s just a boar, represented by the sort of mask that abounds in crazed hillbilly movies. Frake-Waterfield is balling on a budget and doesn’t care if you know it, and this gone-to-seediness has a curdled, callous air. Disney characters are being defiled.

There’s a bit of very blunt satire going on here. The copyright on A.A. Milne’s beloved characters has famously expired, allowing Frake-Waterfield to perpetuate his sick joke free of legal repercussions. Christopher Robin’s abandonment of Pooh parallels the characters’ unexpected entry into public domain, and so, in horror movie terms, the guilty must be punished. The movie isn’t the jokey endeavor that you may expect—it is splatter-camp played with a straight face. The opening credits, with old newsreels and faux-scratchy film stock, suggests a Rob Zombie movie, and the extreme violence follows suit. Christopher Robin is hung up in a shed out of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” issue of Architectural Digest and whipped with Eeyore’s dismembered tail. A young buxom woman is dragged out of a spa, hogtied, and threatened by Piglet with a sledgehammer while Pooh drives a truck over her head. We see her head crunching under the tire in close-up. The film’s violence is just effective enough to make you wonder if you should be laughing at it—something about “Blood and Honey” starts to stick in your throat.

Frake-Waterfield gets a lot of mileage out of the fakeness of that Pooh mask. It isn’t expressive, and often remains frozen as Pooh slathers honey over himself hungrily or commits murder. The film authentically degrades the likeness of Pooh, one of the easiest of Disney’s appropriations to enjoy, reminding us that all pop culture is ultimately product, whether aimed at children or bored adults looking for a slasher movie to goose them in the middle of a work week. “Blood and Honey” successfully exploits your guilt over leaving pets at home as well as your corresponding feelings that you can never go home again. It hits the same nerve that twitches when you revisit a favorite childhood movie as an adult only to realize that you don’t care about it anymore.

I’m guessing that Frake-Waterfield is a real director who saw a way into a tough business to crack. And Disney isn’t the only subject to which he’s flipping the bird. Like the “Terrifier” movies, “Blood and Honey” reclaims disreputability for a genre that has been putting on a lot of airs. This is an exploitive slasher movie with no “elevated” pretension to hide behind. People go to the woods, show off their shapely flesh, and are turned into charcuterie. Are you not entertained? I was, mostly. What that says about me is up to you.

Goren Stolevski’s “Of an Age” is one of those movies that wears its uneventfulness as an enlightened badge of honor, following two young men as they flirt their way toward a connection. It’s 1999 somewhere in Australia, and teenaged Kol (Elias Anton) is dressing for a dance recital only to learn that his partner, Ebony (Hattie Hook), has gotten herself loaded and stranded somewhere an hour away. Kol hitches a ride with Ebony’s older, more seasoned brother, Adam (Thom Green), to go get her, and they fall into a will-they-or-won’t-they rhythm. Adam knows who he is, confident with his sexuality as well as his worldliness, while Kol is still trying to play straight and feign a sense of erudition with contrived references to things like the works of Borges and Kafka.

There’s nothing wrong with “Of an Age.” The men and their insecure banter are very convincing and kind of poignant, yet I feel as if I watch about 10 of these dear, earnest little almost-relationship movies a year. “Of an Age” is the kind of film I theoretically respect, yet the terms of my involvement are so fragile that anything—from the vibration of my phone to the sound of a bag of potato chips being opened in the next room—is capable of severing my connection to it. The impudent side of me wants to ask “So two dudes connected once 20 years ago, so what?” Yes, we as humans are frequently haunted by inconsequential memories, but Stolevski doesn’t evoke a larger context. Terrified of indulging in Hollywood bullshit like a rudimentary narrative, he grinds us down with minutiae, intensifying our stultification with a purposeful yet repetitive emphasis on close-ups of the men’s faces in Adam’s car. You are pathetically grateful when Kol and Adam end up at a party and Live’s “Lightning Crashes” blares on the soundtrack. It’s not much, but something is happening.

Fast forward to 10 or so years later, with an explosion delineating the film’s two segments as being separated by 9/11. Kol and Adam meet again at Ebony’s wedding, and their roles seem to have reversed. Kol is actualized, out and cocky to the point of seeming like an asshole, while Adam, humbled by adult life and intangibly less sexy, looks to Kol for approval. That’s a promising set-up but by this point there’s only 15 minutes left of the movie, and so it ends unfulfilled on a note of self-congratulatory uncertainty.

The differences between the characters of the two timelines are shrewdly observed—Ebony’s newfound maturity is particularly moving—but there simply isn’t much movie here. “Of an Age” aspires to the Proustian undertow of a film by Richard Linklater or Andrew Haigh, but it lacks their internal emotional infrastructure, their X-factor. Stolevski doesn’t seem to understand that their reveries only appear to be plotless. They are highly controlled works, and so is “Of an Age,” but Stolevski doubles down on the wrong ingredients. There’s a fine line between plumbing a motherlode of subtext and twiddling your thumbs, and Stolevski falls on the wrong side of it. The film’s addiction to its own sensitivity might give you a mild case of hives. For balm, there’s blood and honey.

“Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” and “Of an Age” both open at Movieland this week.