Overview: 15-year-old Layla moves from Trinidad to Brixton, London and struggles to fit into a new community. As she tries to create a new life for herself and find her way, she is pressured into making decisions that ultimately lead to tragedy. Array Releasing; 2016; Not Rated; 93 minutes.
Fortune’s Fool: Newly arrived in Brixton, London, from Trinidad, Layla (Jessica Sula) moves in with her young mother Shiree (Naomi Ryan) who she hasn’t seen in ten years. From their first conversation, Layla is met with tough love, and is told she’s going to have to pull her own weight, make her own meals, and handle the cleaning. Layla agrees with a shy, amenable smile. When Layla is sent home from school on the first day because the proper forms were never submitted, she is placed in another, rougher school down the road, the catalyst in a tragic chain of events.
Honeytrap’s main dramatic plot involves an overlap of traditional coming of age hallmarks such as the exploration of young love, sexuality, and peer pressure, but incorporates aspects of a more adult world of gangs and violence. The young members of a community, seemingly without much guidance, inhabit a world of which they are too young to understand the danger. “I have plans too,” Layla says at one point, “I wanna be something.” It’s a moment of naïve honesty and a theme that permeates the film, as Layla continually tries to find her identity as a young woman, and gets more than she bargained for.
The first feature length film from writer-director Rebecca Johnson, Honeytrap has an impressive commitment to its main character and generally resists both grandiose spiritual revelations and overly simplistic lessons.
More Woe: The early scenes of Honeytrap are simple and quiet. As Layla struggles to find a group of friends and connect with her mother, her solitude allows her character fantastic moments to come into her own in a way that is both genuine and telling. Layla’s lack of belonging in the early portions of the film, as well, feels genuine without being overdone. Sula is a strong actress, expressive and believably shy or awkward in many parts of the film, and her scenes with her mother are especially emotionally resonant.
Layla’s mother Shiree is a surprisingly complicated woman, and so much characterization is achieved with so few scenes. She is economizing in her compliments or motherly gestures in an attempt to not be coddling, and is always trying to push young Layla out of the nest and encourage her to be independent and mentally strong. While not explored too much, the difficult life Shiree has lived shines through in the jaded advice she imparts to Layla, which comes from a place of sad resignation, and Honeytrap thankfully avoids making her out to be a villain.
Layla’s beau Troy (Lucien Laviscount), a rapper who meets Layla when she and her friends are chosen to feature in one of his music videos, is her first experience with love, and their relationship ultimately plays a huge part in her story. Their relationship eventually turns sour, and Layla, is drawn into what quickly becomes a controlling and abusive relationship. Layla is ultimately pressured by Troy into setting up a classmate Shaun (Ntonga Mwanza) to be killed. Troy grows rather one note as the story progresses, unfortunately, and his motivations remain somewhat unexplored.
Violent Ends: The climax of the story is shown at the start of the film, but still maintains its impact, serving as a saddening before and after portrait of a character we have grown to see as heartbreakingly naïve. Layla’s consistent malleability as well as her lack of a lifeline to help her out of the mess her social life has become, has the inevitable tragic end of a Shakespearean tragedy but feels grounded in reality.
Johnson sometimes resorts to clichés, both stylistic and dramatic (there are some particularly saccharine, too-long moments between Layla and Troy) but on a larger scale avoids plot contrivances. What begins as a simple story of the struggle of going through one’s first love becomes a more complicated story with higher stakes than one might expect.
Overall: The teenage romance starts off mostly par for the course but its tragic end is something unique. Based on a true story, able to stand on its own without leaning on too many coming-of-age clichés. Without an over-simplified conclusion or an overarching lesson about growing up, Honeytrap leaves Layla nearly as lost in the end as when she arrived, making for an emotionally honest look at a girl’s struggle with young adulthood.
Featured Image: Array Releasing