Film reviews and more since 2009

Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey (2023) review

Dir. Rhys Frake-Waterfield

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★½

With several beloved properties having recently entered — or soon to be entering — the public domain, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey will either be the dark, twisted fantasy you never knew you wanted or the nightmare fuel you don’t want to go near. Rhys Frake-Waterfield’s much-discussed and highly anticipated horror take on the classic A. A. Milne’s books (which hit public domain last January) should get any devout horror fan interested from the jump. However, don’t act surprised when the cheap and admittedly scummy concept leads to a lackluster film.

Originally slated for a (more appropriate) release in October 2022, the film wound up securing a one-night only showing as a Fathom Event. Due to increased publicity, its theatrical engagement has been extended. It’s low-key impressive for a film made for less than $100,000 to see such a substantial release, but what does it say about our depraved fascinations? That’s a thinkpiece for another time. I can’t lie, I was eager for this one.

The film opens with sketches showing Christopher Robin stumbling upon a gang of cute, anthropomorphic creatures — Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, and Owl — in the Hundred Acre Wood. They become fast friends, but when Christopher Robin grew up, he had to leave for college, forcing the woodland creatures to adapt to life on their own. The crew nearly starved during bitter winters, forced to eat Eeyore to survive. Together, they grew mad, taking a pact of silence and revenge in the process.

Following the storybook opening, Christopher (Nikolai Leon) takes his fiancée, Mary (Paula Coiz), to the Hundred Acre Wood. He’s aghast to find the area has become dilapidated and dingy since his childhood days. From the darkness emerges Pooh (Craig David Dowsett) and Piglet (Chris Cordell), hulking monsters wielding weaponry. They kill Mary and take Christopher prisoner. Soon after, Maria (Maria Taylor) and a group of her friends ditch society for a getaway in the woods, with Maria needing to get over a horrific stalking experience. Once Pooh and Piglet appear, however, the getaway is anything but relaxing as the body count starts to pile up.

Blood and Honey practically begins on a misguided note. It spends several minutes showing Christopher revisiting the woods with Mary, scene-setting and humanizing this spooky locale. All good stuff. But as soon as Pooh and Piglet corner Christopher, the film reverts back to its sketchbook style that we first witnessed. After all that glacially paced buildup, I felt cheated out of a gloriously bloody climax.

The good news is that Blood and Honey doesn’t do that again. Quite the contrary. This is a grim, violent picture, showing you the bloodiest of beatings and the goriest of kills in great detail. A credit to Frake-Waterfield and the several effects artists who opted for practical effects and “real” fake blood, only utilizing CGI gore when absolutely necessary (a woodchipper sequence). This gifts the film the low-budget feel it craves, even if the establishing shots and cinematography (the work of Vince Knight) impressively exceed budgetary constraints.

Frake-Waterfield’s script is what manages to bring the entire production down. We are deeply screwed if there is a horror film released this year with poorer writing than Blood and Honey. Maria and her group of friends couldn’t possibly be less developed. They are the emptiest vessels; lambs to slaughter. Some may not mind, for the kills will be worth the price of admission. That may be true, but there’s so little meat on this bone that the underwritten qualities emerge when you realize the redundant cat-and-mouse structure leaves nothing to the imagination whatsoever.

The best creative decision within was making Pooh and Piglet silent. Having them spout catchphrases and quips could’ve led to an outright disaster, the likes of which reminiscent of the worst Leprechaun sequels (spoiler: most of them). There is something inherently ominous about the fact that Pooh and Piglet can speak, but choose not to. Without Christopher Robin’s gentle hand and plentiful gifts of nourishment, the two have resorted to being feral — although it’s never quite clear what exactly they eat, save for honey. The masks Dowsett and Cordell don are creepy in close-up, but their overall appearances looks more like scary adult Halloween costumes than that of an anthropomorphic bear and pig.

Alas, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey doesn’t work very well, and it’s even a tax at a slight 83-minutes long as it devolves into another slasher in need of more imagination than a cocktail napkin-premise. I saw this with a horror filmmaker and a group of his friends, which livened up the atmosphere on an otherwise unremarkable winter evening. In the middle of it, he remarked that Blood and Honey looks better than the project on which he’s currently working. Maybe it was self-deprecation. I’ve seen uglier pictures that had more effort in the writing department.

NOTE: Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey is now playing in theaters for a limited time. A VOD release will presumably follow.

Starring: Nikolai Leon, Maria Taylor, Craig David Dowsett, Chris Cordell, Nathan Rose Mills, Amber Doig-Thorne, Danielle Ronald, Natasha Tosini, and Paula Coiz. Directed by: Rhys Frake-Waterfield.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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