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"Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" sorely wants a spot in the "so naughty it's good" category, by showing you what it would look like if Winnie-the-Pooh became a sadistic killer alongside his face-devouring friend, Piglet. This English production, making its way to 1,500 theaters in America this week, aims to take the piss out of one's childhood nostalgia, which is mirrored here by what happens to poor Christopher Robin (Nikolai Leon)—he returns home from college to find out that his boyhood pals have become human-hating murderers. Before some flashy, forensic opening credits straight out of 2000s horror, they make their first kill. But for how shocking this may sound in getting one over on anyone offended by its concept, it's not the perverting of A.A. Milne's work that's any part of the problem. As a horror and a comedy, "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" has no rhythm with either, and it's too dim to be worthy of a curious look. Writer/director/editor Rhys Frake-Waterfield wants you to "turn your brain off," as the moviegoing adage goes, but that's hard to do when its poorly lit sequences constantly force you to squint to decipher its nighttime terror in 100 Acre Wood.
The best joke is that you see Pooh's round ears and button-nose in ominous shots where Leatherface or Michael Myers are supposed to be, with red overalls and a rubbery mask that's frozen to a type of honey-suckling grin. Judging from the mildly amused reactions of other people in the theater, those reveals are the film's most consistent chuckles, and I agree. You never get tired of seeing Frake-Waterfield's version of Pooh and Piglet (portrayed by Craig David Dowsett and Chris Cordell, respectively) pitched as towering psychopaths, but the movie also makes you wish it tried harder.
"Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" struggles to be notable outside of its irreverent IP comic relief, despite simplifying itself. Take away the Pooh and Piglet stuff, and you have a ho-hum stalker thriller that treats its one-dimensional characters as punchlines for gory scenes its budget can't fully deliver on. In this case, five women (Maria Taylor, Natasha Tosini, Natasha Rose Mills, Amber Doig-Thorne, and Danielle Ronald) have gathered at a remote cabin near Pooh and Piglet's kingdom of sadism. Frake-Waterfield doesn't even humor us with much development or care for these women; we know that one of them, Maria Taylor's Maria, is traumatized by a man who stalks her back in the city, and this is her getaway. "Blood and Honey" then lumps her in with other easy targets for easier shocks: the women are as gullible as anyone deeply offended by this movie, and we're meant to laugh at each poor choice these characters make.
A sentence I never thought I'd write: Pooh and Piglet proceed to terrorize these women, with a few other victims thrown in, sometimes in a way akin to ritual sacrifice. It only becomes uneasy when it becomes so obvious. It's a lot of women—many with black hair, curiously—experiencing head trauma. Oh, bother.
Whether one finds this movie's promise giddy or gross, the terror scenes are much too drawn out, stuffed with extraneous beats that create dead air. There are many improvised-looking of scenes of stalking or screaming for help, in which everyone is stuck waiting for a greater storytelling vision to round out the joke. One scene that lacks self-awareness has Piglet walking in a shallow indoor pool, wielding a sledgehammer at his prey. A funny set-up, but the scene itself can barely move. The whole project has that baffling defect—how do you cut a premise like this down to the bone, with Pooh and Piglet more or less rampaging for 85 minutes, and make the movie so boring?
By being finished and distributed, "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" will already be a win for some (and a sequel has been announced). Some will want to see what a blood-splattering Winnie-the-Pooh movie looks like, serviceable filmmaking be damned, and I get it. (We find Super Bowl commercials enticing in the same way, but maybe not at feature length.) But if witnessed at all, Frake-Waterfield's film is the kind of dismal curiosity best experienced with a friend, to be briefly amused, or to commiserate with. Preferably if they're paying for it.
Now playing in theaters.
Nikolai Leon as Christopher Robin
Craig David Dowsett as Pooh Bear
Chris Cordell as Piglet
Amber Doig-Thorne as Alice
Natasha Tosini as Lara
Maria Taylor as Maria
May Kelly as Tina