Home > Reviews > HONEYDEW – John Mehrmann

HONEYDEW – John Mehrmann

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Honeydew is a new low-budget horror drama written by Dan Kennedy and directed by Devereux Milburn. It tells the story of a young couple, Sam and Rylie (played by Sawyer Spielberg, the son of Steven, and Malin Barr), who seek shelter in the home of an aging farmer named Karen (Barbara Kingsley) and her peculiar near-mummified son Gunni (Jamie Bradley), and gradually begin to experience strange cravings and hallucinations. Roger Ebert’s website called it a “camping-trip-gone-wrong horror” and a “tribute to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with some Hansel and Gretel mixed in,” and talked about the unnerving atmosphere the film creates, with its oddly orange-hued color filters, oddball characters, and atmosphere of encroaching dread. This latter element is increased enormously by the film’s score by composer John Mehrmann.

Mehrmann is a composer based in Maine, whose only previous work in film was for the 2017 film Loud Places, directed by this film’s screenwriter Dan Kennedy, Mehrmann’s online biography lists him as a composer for choirs, movies, orchestras, soloists, kids’ shows, commercials, and churches; a pianist, singer, conductor, percussionist, and accordionist; the music director at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Auburn, Maine; a member of the Bangor Symphony percussion section; and a teacher, at Bay Chamber Music School in Rockport, Maine, and at the University of Maine at Augusta. Despite being a relative newcomer to film music, Mehrmann is clearly a composer with experience and talent; as such, it is perhaps not a surprise to discover that Honeydew is one of the weirdest, but most compelling and fascinating, scores I have heard in years.

In the score’s accompanying notes Mehrmann explains: “When I started to write the soundtrack for Honeydew, my first few tracks were for fairly traditional instruments, but the director made it clear that he didn’t want that, and he encouraged me to get weirder and weirder. The first time I sent him a track of me popping on my cheeks, he just about flipped out with excitement. I recorded the entire album with a single mic in my living room, using whatever sounds were at hand — namely, my voice, my body, long kitchen knives, glasses filled with water, little percussion instruments and sound effects. The fleshy body percussion, mouth noises and kitchen utensils were not really consciously chosen. But in retrospect they are the absolutely perfect ‘instruments’ for this film. I’m a percussionist and vocalist, among other things, and a lot of the soundtrack represents a hybrid of those two worlds.”

And that, essentially, is what the entire score sounds like. Some of it reminded me of the acappella score for the Daniel Radcliffe movie Swiss Army Man from 2016, while other parts of it reminded me of some of Ennio Morricone’s most out-there scores for 1960s Italian giallo movies. There is a main theme of sorts – an eerie, whining, fragile tone accompanied by glassy, tinkling percussion – but this only heard in the opening cue “Honeydew,” leaving it the sole isolated beacon of tonal consonance in a score full of unnerving dissonance and chaos.

Cues like “Mystic Mumbles,” “Shadow Voices,” “That’s the Spirit,” “Delilah,” and the wild and aggressive “Bright Eyes and Sweet Smiles” feature a series of primal vocalizations, wordless mutterings, creepy whispering, whistling, anarchic yelping, and overlapping glossolalia that sounds like a chorus of medieval monks chanting and babbling across and on top of each other. For some reason I was reminded in the abstract of some of Philip Glass’s horror work in the Candyman series, as well as his trio of ‘Qatsi’ documentaries, but these were just fleeting tonal similarities; in truth, I don’t think I have ever heard film music like this before.

And then there are the cues which are almost indescribable. Make some popping sounds with your mouth, slap your cheeks or your thighs or your stomach with your hands, breathe heavily into a microphone, and then somehow organize this noise into something approaching a recognizable percussive rhythm, and that’s what cues like “The Box,” “Knife Play,” and “Gunni” sound like. Not only that, but cues like “The Box” and “Knife Play” also feature the unmistakably ominous sound of metal being drawn across metal, like blades being sharpened, to really hammer home the fact that Sam and Rylie, the two protagonists, are in terrible, terrible danger. “Rylie” features a rolling, trilling, almost subliminal snare drum lick that sounds like a condemned prisoner being led to the gallows.

Many of the cues are combinations of all these elements – the eerie tones, the glassy percussion, the voices, the popping and slapping – resulting in what Slashfilm correctly called ‘a symphony of foley,’ and what Horror DNA accurately described as being ‘part ASMR video, part jangly semi-experimental nightmare’. The score album is then sounded out with two excerpts from Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” and an instrumental rendition of Adolphe Adam’s hymn “O Holy Night,” rendered on an old, tinny keyboard, which makes even these most beautiful and melodic classical themes seem warped, twisted, and surreal.

In description I’m sure that the score for Honeydew sounds awful – and, indeed, some people may think it is awful – but I found to be an absolutely fascinating auditory experience, a hypnotic soundscape that drew me in and compelled me to listen to it over and over. Is it music? I have no idea. Probably? For sure, anyone who needs themes and motifs and orchestral swells in the film scores will undoubtedly find this experience to be perplexing at best, incomprehensibly boring at worst. One thing it isn’t, though, is conventional. In a world where horror movie soundtracks are often little more than endless string sustains punctuated by eardrum-splitting stingers and jump-scares, Honeydew at least had the balls to do something wildly different, and both John Mehrmann and Devereux Milburn should absolutely be commended for that. Just be prepared for the fact that, if you do listen to this, you will likely be embarking on one of the weirdest film music experiences of your life.

Buy the Honeydew soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Honeydew (3:50)
  • Mystic Mumbles (4:45)
  • The Box (5:37)
  • Goldberg Variation No. 1 (written by Johann Sebastian Bach) (1:59)
  • Shadow Voices (4:24)
  • That’s the Spirit (1:19)
  • Knife Play (3:48)
  • Rylie (3:20)
  • The Truck (1:35)
  • The Post (1:56)
  • Gunni (2:14)
  • Delilah (2:41)
  • Bright Eyes and Sweet Smiles (3:15)
  • O Holy Night (written by Adolphe Adam) (1:36)
  • Goldberg Variation No. 18 (written by Johann Sebastian Bach) (2:04)

Running Time: 44 minutes 32 seconds

Moviescore Media MMS-21023 (2021)

Music composed by John Mehrmann. Performed by John Mehrmann, Nate Martin and Mike Whitehead. Recorded and mixed by John Mehrmann. Album produced by John Mehrmann and Mikael Carlsson.

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