Rebecca Johnson’s “Honeytrap” is a well told story of Layla, a beautiful 15 year old girl who, after living most of her life with her grandparents in Trinidad, arrives in Brixton, London, to live with her estranged mother. Based on the case of a real-life murder which made UK news headlines in 2008, in which a young girl is used to lure her naïve ex-boyfriend into the trap of her older ex-boyfriend and his posse, “Honeytrap” eschews the headlines and plays out the classic fish out of water trope to a devastatingly tragic conclusion. With Layla initially sticking out like a sore thumb and keen fit in with her peers, she is lead down paths that seem unlikely she’d have gone down if the spectre of teenage peer pressure and a desperate need for acceptance, weren’t so strongly at play.
The need for acceptance though, stems mainly from a seeming lack of affection from Layla’s grandparents and mother. In fact, the relationship between mother and daughter is central to this story. Though Layla is taken in by her mother, the arrangement seems to be one of great reluctance and inconvenience on the mother’s part. Emotionally cold, self-centred and clearly dependent on male attention herself, Layla’s mother seems to have little beyond the roof over her head to give to her daughter. While we never see her deny Layla as her daughter, she behaves more like an older sibling irritated by the very existence of her naive, doting, younger sister, than a mother with any sense of maternal responsibility or moral guidance to impart. So with the any notions of a happy family life in London being dashed from the outset, Layla is pretty much at the mercy of the worst that inner city youth culture has to offer any unassuming newcomer.
Jessica Sula plays Layla with amazing fluidity. Her naivety is believable, and yet one is equally left wondering whether her character is really as sweet and innocence as she initially seems. She clearly has ambitions to be greater than what she’s been lead to believe she can be, but, like her mother, one gets the impression that male attention plays a huge part in any such scheme. She certainly doesn’t have problems with switching allegiances, but is she just being a normal, whimsical teenager or a scheming femme fatale? Whatever the case, it’s clear that she doesn’t quite have the wherewithal to be more than a pawn or a plaything, with little personal fortitude to change the rules of the game or stop playing altogether.
As writer-director, it’s obvious that Johnson put a lot of thought into the central character of her film. However, while Sula pretty much carries the film, in stark contrast, apart from her mother, the rest of the cast of characters don’t really come across as anything other than lazy stereotypes, perhaps enabling Sula to shine that bit more, seeing as she has more to grapple with. From the nice black guy, to the bad black guy, and all the other bad black boys and girls, they all seem to have been written to lend to the sensational story urban teenage tragedy that the story leads up to. Layla is referred to by one of the young men in her life as his “Trini princess,” and what Johnson delivers in “Honeytrap” is a tragically real princess in a land of make-believe cardboard cut-out characters. The one good guy is very, very good, and all the bad guys, and gals, are all horrid.
Despite my misgivings about the supporting cast, “Honeytrap” is an engaging, well-paced film which manages to go beyond the sensation of a young female accomplice to murder, and cuts to the very personal story of a young woman who lets her desperate yearning for affection and acceptance spiral way out of her control.