Directed by: #SeanRiley
Written by: #SeanRiley
Starring: #ElizabethMcCoy, #SherryLattanzi
Film Review by: Emily Davison
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High school bee enthusiast and social outcast is taken under the wing of an enigmatic mentor, only to discover she is being groomed as a hive’s next queen.
Royal Jelly (2021), directed and written by Sean Riley is scheduled to drop on major streaming platforms September 14th, 2021. The film has a very intriguing creepy premise and includes charming homages to past horror flicks, but ultimately struggles with its tone and pacing.
The movie begins strongly with a wonderful, disturbing score by Joe Hodgin which depicts a dark fairy-tale soundscape, as we are introduced to Aster (McCoy) collecting honey from her bee hives. We learn about the different roles of bees when our protagonist gives a class presentation, educating us about the plot to follow which will directly involve Aster in an unsettling turn of events.
Royal Jelly (2021) film poster
It is unclear whether it was the intention of Riley to reference past works of horror directors, however, the similarities to Carrie (1976) are most profound with Aster being a shy teenage outcast who is relentlessly teased and bullied by her classmates. The visual motif of blood is also presented frequently throughout. Carrie is even directly mentioned by one of the bullies when they discuss planning revenge on Aster for egging one of their houses with a mysterious stranger. The film appears to make references to The Witch (2015), when Aster is often seen walking about in a white nightgown similar to the attire of Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, who also becomes involved in a sinister supernatural plot.
Tresa (Lattanzi) appears as a substitute teacher one day at school and almost instantly forms a bond with Aster over their shared love for bee keeping. It is liberating to see Tresa help Aster transform into a confident young woman who can stand up for herself by the end of the film, with the removal of her glasses and change of appearance signifying this change. Her relationship with her step mother and half-sister was shown to be negative and Tresa almost becomes a maternal figure to her, only for things to become more disturbing once she is taken to a secluded house and meets Tresa’s son, Henry (Lucas T. Matchett).
Unfortunately, once the film’s location became rooted in this house the pacing came to a grinding halt and struggled to pick up in its third act. It was confusing when none of Aster’s family members, including her kind hearted father, did not try and contact her as she appeared to be missing from normal life for days. Bizarre ideas and scenes let to a very unsettling birth scene, however, the tone came across as more comedic than suspenseful towards the end with big shocks that did not land.
Too much time was spent on Aster’s transition from outcast to normal teenager, with not enough development given to Aster’s characterisation as person and for Tresa. We do not get to know these characters enough and why they have this obsession with bees; some of the scenes did feel overacted, which made emotionally engaging with the cast often difficult. A tighter screenplay with more exploration of the interesting ideas raised, but not fully taken advantage of, may have made the film more hard-hitting and impactful.
Royal Jelly is a horror movie with great potential and an original concept, which is not effectively executed in the finished product. There are some nice little nods to past horror films and some well-directed set pieces, yet a more polished script and grounded performances from its cast may have given this flick the genuine fear factor it was aiming for.
Royal Jelly (2021) trailer: