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Review: ROYAL JELLY Is a Royal Pain

Royal Jelly (2021)
Directed by Sean Riley
Written by Sean Riley
Produced by Sean Riley

Not Rated, 1h 33m

Director Sam Riley brings together Elizabeth McCoy, Sherry Lattanzi, and Fiona McQuinn for Royal Jelly, a film described by distributor Uncork’d Entertainment as, “The Fly meets Tremors“. The plot is described thusly: “When Aster, a reclusive high school bee enthusiast, is taken under the wing of a mysterious mentor named Tresa, everything Aster loves is shattered. Snatched away to Tresa’s remote, nightmarish apiary, Aster finds herself captive to Tresa’s grotesque plan—being groomed as a diseased hive’s next queen. Aster must find the strength within to exterminate Tresa and her godforsaken brood to survive.”

This film came out September 14. I watched the screener a few days before that, and normally would be a lot more quick to write a review, but I’ve been thinking about this film a lot longer than I normally think about a film. I’ve also really been dreading this writeup, because I really want to find ways to celebrate new filmmakers. But, folks, I have to be honest. The movie is just not good.

The fundamental issue is that the movie is just dumb. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a dumb movie, but it has to be strategically dumb. Make the circumstances dumb, but the characters more or less reasonable and likeable in the face of dumb circumstances (I’m looking at you, Big Ass Spider). Or make characters dumb to provide comic relief, that’s cool (Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, Hot Fuzz). Or if the characters are smart, but make dumb decisions because they’re immoral (Aliens, The Host), also acceptable. But when the circumstances are dumb, the story is dumb, the dialogue and accents are dumb, and the bulk of characters are dumb, it makes it really hard to hang in as a viewer.

Specific gripes include the worst Southern accent I’ve ever heard from an actor, thanks to protagonist Tresa (Lattanzi). I’m from Texas. I regularly work with people from Alabama. I’ve been to New Orleans more times than I can count. I know what a Southern accent sounds like. This ain’t it. Maybe I’ve misunderstood what the dialect coach and the actor were going for; maybe they were going for something altogether different. In any case, it’s distracting.

More gripes: a laughing scene between the two mains is stilted and just unbelievable, in the literal meaning of the word. One of the young actors mumbles incoherently through most of his lines, and another portrays a cowboy so cartoonish, I expected SpongeBob to surface any moment. And maybe that’s ultimately why I take such issue with this film. None of these characters, with the exception of Elizabeth McCoy as Aster, seems to take their material seriously. It’s largely a non-funny movie rife with caricatures. As an example, guess what the main character does to show that she’s becoming more sexually attractive and comfortable in her own skin? She stops wearing her glasses. Pretty sure that trope was skewered back in the 90s. And the final resolution? Sigh. Bees don’t have fangs.

What I did manage to like about the film: Elizabeth McCoy as Aster, is fairly believable as an awkward teenager. The knowledge shared about bees is actually really intriguing; I learned way more practical, common sense knowledge than one typically does via a horror movie (note: there are exceptions, particularly as applies to staking out potential victims, hiding from serial killers, proper creation of a salt ring, etc.). There is a brief hallway scene of two high school teachers from Aster’s school giving the students a hard time; it’s out of step with the rest of the film, but it’s comic gold and the highlight of the film. The still for the movie promo is really pretty cool, and I give props for the score by Joe Hodgin and the cool farmhouse setting, but the rest of it just doesn’t, ahem, gel. If you have limited time to spend on genre fare, this is one to skip.

Royal Jelly runs 93 minutes, and the trailer can be found here.

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