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Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey (18)
Director: Rhys Frake-Waterfield
Screenplay: Rhys Frake-Waterfield
Starring: Nikolai Leon, Maria Taylor, Craig David Dowsett
Review: David Stephens
Well, we called it. After a surprising-but-brief sojourn to the big screens in the US, this sell-that-wacky-shit project ambles onto VOD platforms in the UK. Due to media interest in the States and over here, we can “look forward” to plenty of other Disney and children’s classics being eviscerated to extract the meaty potential of unexpected exploitation. As it stands, there are already Peter Pan (Neverland Nightmare) and Bambi (The Reckoning… we kid you not!) gorefests in production. Shot in April 2022 in just ten days, this one comes from the same people that brought us The Killing Tree (about a possessed Xmas tree) and Firenado (about … well, have a wild guess!). This project only became possible because the original 1926 Winnie-the-Pooh book from A.A. Milne is now in the public domain. Working with less than $100,000, the crew used Ashdown Forest in East Sussex as a stand-in for 10 Acre Woods, as it did in the original stories. Now you may either be intrigued, laugh your ass off that this is even a thing, or do the old “ruined my childhood” schtick. But the fact of the matter is that with that minuscule budget, according to industry sites it has already made well over $ 4 million. This is since its theatrical release in America and other regions in mid-February, making it extremely profitable. That being said, it currently sits at 4% on RT critical ratings and has been universally panned. Doesn’t mean we won’t give it a chance though.
Opening with a somewhat charming minimalist cartoon prequel, it tells the well-known story of Christopher Robin and the denizens of 10 Acre Woods. However, instead of being cute and cuddly talking animals based on his toys, in this narrative, they are “cross-breeds”, weird amalgamations of man and beast. After befriending them and feeding them through most of his childhood, when he becomes mature, he leaves them to their own devices. Unfortunately, this has them resorting to eating each other for sustenance (how did they cope in the first place?) and becoming entirely bestial. Many years later, Christopher (played by Nikolai Leon) returns to the woods but is unprepared for the human-eating monsters that Pooh (Craig David Dowsett) and Piglet (Chris Cordell) have become. As are the group of unsuspecting girls on a nature retreat…
Amazingly, this film is actually an emotional examination of the loss of childhood innocence and how friendships are the most fragile gifts of all … Nah, just kidding. This is basically a “mountain man” slasher in the style of Wrong Turn or Madman, but with animal-faced villains instead of someone with a hockey mask or mutated features … and much worse than that set-up might suggest. Because, as daft as the premise is, there probably was scope for something interesting to come from that weird-ass idea. If it had been played as a spoof or an out-and-out comedy, it might have been more memorable. Instead, it’s played dead-straight as a serious slasher. Again, that might have worked to some extent, if a slightly different approach had been taken, but it has zero character definition, no plot development, and uneven performances.
Whilst there are some attempts at black humour (which fall flat), the overly serious tone is a bit of a bust. It doesn’t help that Pooh has been modelled in the Disney style, with a smooth latex scalp and yellow skin, a goofy grin that barely budges, and a cute little black button nose. If they’re “cross-breeds”, why not make him a little hairier or Paddington like? As it stands, you can’t help but roll your eyes or laugh when the farmer-attired Pooh runs through the forest with a machete or hammer, displaying a face that looks like an OAP after twenty face-lifts, being incapable of emotional movement apart from a slight FX-added frown. Piglet is a little better and more “bestial”, but they both still look like exactly what they are. Actors with masks on.
You do have to give credit where’s its due though. There is a steady commitment to R-rated gore and mature attitudes from the start. Heads are crushed and stamped on, with (watery CGI) blood frequently splashing about. However, if you’ve have told us a year ago that one day, Winnie-the-Pooh would slowly drive a car over someone’s cranium or be called a “fucking nonce” by another character, there’s no way we would have believed you! This has created the cult appeal and takings which it has achieved in the States and other regions. There’s a morbid fascination at play here, like the urge to slow down at the scene of a car crash. It remains to be seen what happens in the UK, but it would be genuinely fascinating to see how some of the garbage UK press might react after seeing it.
The problem is that, apart from putting the boogeyman in a Disney mask, there’s no real innovation here or desire to create something scary. There’s a mild frisson from the idea of abandonment by a trusted guardian causing the chaos, but it needed more nasty/gnarly details like the character being whipped with Eeyore’s tail, complete with butt-nail ripping into the flesh. Otherwise, it’s just standard exploitation violence with the (very) occasional decent image or FX. And when we say exploitation, we mean it. One female victim gets her top pulled off before being put through a woodchipper, another poses in a hot tub for social media photos, and the main heroine is on holiday to recover from a stalking incident which is shown in flashback for absolutely no reason whatsoever. The characters (except arguably for Christopher Robin) are just there. There’s no development of their personalities, although the ending does subvert a certain horror trope to good effect.
Doubtless, some people will get a kick out of the subversive nature of the idea, but it’s really just a bog-standard slasher with little to say for itself. Is it bad enough to be enjoyable? There’s a case for that. However, it just feels like something could have been done much better with the material. What do we know though? The sequel’s started production and there’s even talk of a “shared universe”. *Sigh* Excuse us, we’re just off to unfreeze Walt Disney’s head and try and get him onboard to stop stuff like that … as well as the crappy live-action remakes of perfectly fine animated films. You know it makes sense.
Extremely nutty and pretty pointless. There’s the seed of a decent concept here if it had been played for laughs or taken in a slightly different direction. Instead, this is a no-budget backwoods slasher with children’s characters superimposed over the top of it, for no good reason other than to attract attention. Even “so-bad-it’s-good” aficionados will struggle to enjoy this despite the gore.
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