Rebecca Johnson’s tragic true-crime film Honeytrap

Rebecca Johnson’s drama Honeytrap deals with difficult Ken Loach-ian issues: life’s wrong turns, victims of circumstance, absolving of responsibility and unconscious behaviour, set within a social realistic context. The film is loosely based on real-life events in the London district of Brixton from 2008 as Johnson describes here for the BBC.

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The film’s two central characters above: Layla and Shaun, played by Jessca Sula and Ntonga Mwanza. The frame above pretty much sums up their underlying relationship.

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A more literal than figurative life or death decision for Layla, an instant reaction to the turmoil and confusion, and physical consequences, of rejection. This is the film’s turning point but not its tonal shift.

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I grabbed two sets of frames from this scene and couldn’t decide which one to use. (Annemarie Lean-Vercoe’s a great cinematographer, what could I do?) This scene as much as any other informs us Shaun’s not too good to be true, he really is as good as he appears. The film sometimes discusses its themes with clearly delimited characterisations in broad strokes but this heightens the eventual outcome’s emotional impact.

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As expected, the final scene is the most affecting despite us being forewarned by a pre-titles preview (as Alfred Hitchcock said, fear is knowing the shock is coming; in this film it also instructs us how we must process matters). For me, Layla’s possessive ‘partner’ Troy’s (Lucien Laviscount) reaction to her pleas to save Shaun is the singular moment that seals his fate. Regardless of the chain of events leading to, and Laya’s reactions in, this scene we’re left in no doubt this was a terrible betrayal.

The film tantalisingly leaves us with the prospect of some of the characters’ redemption, its lingering horror may be not all these characters can be so lucky.

Reference: Honeytrap – Fierce Productions

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2 thoughts on “Rebecca Johnson’s tragic true-crime film Honeytrap

  1. Great review, for a fantastic film. I managed to see this at the BFI London Film Festival last year and the Q&A was really interesting.

    How did you manage to catch it? I saw it was out on DVD / Rental – it’s great to see that it’s being seen by a wider audience. There were concerns that it wouldn’t get far beyond the festival circuit.

  2. Thanks for reading, and you’re too kind about the review—it was just a collection of observations compared to your reviews.

    I saw on DVD, and I’m envious of you seeing at a festival/the cinema (I’d join the BFI if I was based in London) especially for the Q&A session. My perception was the film was crafted to appeal to a wider audience (i.e., Shaun was very good, the other boys were very bad, and Layla was very relatable), I only hope it has been more widely seen. If it’s broadcast on Film4 let’s hope it’s not premiered at 1:30am in the morning.

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