ROYAL JELLY (2021)
Directed & written by Sean Riley.
Starring Elizabeth McCoy, Sherry Lattanzi, Jonas Chartock, Fiona McQuinn, Jesse Hartsog, Raylen Ladner, Jake McCoy, Lucas T. Matchett
A young outcast named Aster (Elizabeth McCoy) is picked on by her sister and her peers, but finds a kinship with her substitute teacher Tresa (Sherry Lattanzi). Both shy away from convention and also share an interest in beekeeping. After a prank ends with Aster losing her own bee hive, Tresa invites Aster to her place to check out her hive. But the hive Tresa takes care of proves to be something Aster would never imagine and will leave her forever changed.
ROYAL JELLY certainly shoots for the moon in the story it is trying to tell. I will give filmmaker Sean Riley credit for trying to tell a different and unique style of monster movie. Sure there have been films like WASP WOMAN and CANDYMAN, utilizing a natural fear of bees in order to cause icks and shivers. But Riley focuses on body horror in ROYAL JELLY, making it much more of a low budget cousin of Cronenberg’s THE FLY and Kafka’s METAMORPHOSIS than anything else. With there being an abundance of vampire, zombie, and werewolf films being released weekly, it’s refreshing that a film would tackle bees as the monster du jour.
So the idea is there and it’s a fun one. I just wish ROYAL JELLY would have been able to stick the landing. First off, this is an expansive film that covers a lot of ground. It is a story about a shy and put upon gal who finds her own voice and her own way against all kinds of adversity. There is definitely a CARRIE-vibe going on here. The school bullies even bring up that they want to douse Aster in pig’s blood. But ROYAL JELLY’s timeline is extremely out of whack. It seems a lengthy amount of time passes as Aster basically relocates to Tresa’s home. The film doesn’t make this passage of time clear and makes it even more muddy by not even really addressing that Aster is a teenager who has basically run away from home. What’s worse is that once Aster leaves, there is no reaction shown from her parents, as we don’t even cut back to them, and it seems they aren’t even looking for her. Aster’s family is introduced at the beginning, but are completely forgotten by the second act. There is also a pregnancy that occurs at an extremely truncated length of time and it isn’t clear whether this is a speedy pregnancy or if nine months have passed. Simple establishing shots don’t seem to be of any importance to the filmmaker, but it sure is crucial for me to understand the movie.
On top of that, the actors do things that make no sense at all. Why would Aster be interested in Tresa’s son and want to sleep with him when his body is covered in sores and pustules? Where did the cowboy come from and why is he there? What is Tresa’s ultimate goal? Why is Aster, who is supposed to be a smart lass, making so many dumb decisions that are obviously putting her into deeper danger? Again, filmmaker Sean Riley doesn’t seem to be interested in answering any of these questions.
Instead, it seems Riley had an idea for a beginning and a shockeroo, over the top end, but really no interest in getting there in a sensible and believable manner. Huge leaps in logic are made in order to get Aster in the place she is in by the end and once she gets there, there really isn’t a satisfying resolution given. What happened to the larva? Where’s Aster’s parents? What will Aster do next once she has uncovered Tresa’s plot? There’s just a low fi effects climax and then a cut to credits, as if the power bill was long overdue and shut off and the filmmaker just kind of said—“OK, folks. That’s a wrap!”
I don’t want to be harsh. Actress Elizabeth McCoy is very beautiful and most likely will go on to do much better things. She’s got an Anne Hathaway vibe going that makes her likable to a fault. Sherry Lattanzi is ok too as the mysterious Tresa and both McCoy and Lattanzi work well off of one another when they share scenes. These two actors do their best with a flawed script and a very low budget. The effects are low fi too and while I appreciate that they aren’t your typical monster effects, it feels that the scope of the effects just were too much for the budget to handle. In the end, I would have loved to have seen what a few more thousand bucks would have done for ROYAL JELLY. It feels rushed and not completely well thought through, but there are sparks of inspiration throughout.