Royal Jelly


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Royal Jelly
"McCoy does a good job of developing her character and carrying her, with some concessions to realism, though an arc very far removed from any likely reality."

The overlap between B-movies and (fictional) bee movies is considerable, to say the least, but this new arrival from writer/director Sean Riley is a long way from the heights of films like The Swarm and The Killer Bees - even Invasion Of The Bee Girls looks like stellar stuff by comparison. If you go into it hoping for monstrous mutation and giant insect antics, you'll have be patient (and take account of the limited budget). It has a fair bit of story, however, and an amiable oddness which fans of trash may well find appealing.

The plot, such as it is, goes to some disturbing places but not in the ways you might expect of a creature feature. It centres on Aster (Elizabeth McCoy), a disaffected teenage goth whose father remarried after the death of her mother and whose preppy stepsister (Raylen Ladner) has allied herself with the school bullies. Aster's only real friends are her bees - until, that is, substitute teacher Tresa (Sherry Lattanzi) takes an interest in her. The intense connection that develops between them over the course of a day, going from classroom discussion to dining together and then engaging in petty crimes together, rings some heavy alarm bells, not least when Tresa starts talking about how mature Aster is. But although there's grooming going on, this is not what it looks like - Tresa is after Aster's body for a different purpose altogether.

Logic quickly gets lost here as the diligently expounded bee lore of those early classroom scenes is hamfistedly translated into a story concerned with human reproduction, domination and some kind of apiairian cult. Riley struggles with clashing notions of queendom and the fact that churning out babies is not, in human societies, generally associated with power. Whilst he tries to figure in out, Aster gets a makeover which suggests the film has travelled back in time to the Seventies, develops a crush on what is probably the first boy ever to have spoken to her (Jesse Hartsog), and takes far, far too long to clock that anything is amiss.

Comparisons have been made between Royal Jelly and The Velocipastor, and that's fair insofar as they've both made by directors who have considerable skill which they occasionally slip up and show despite a general effort to make their product look like trash. Brendan Steere's film, however, maintains its wit and energy all the way through, whilst Riley's effort sags badly in the second half, straying into Southern Gothic territory which just doesn't marry well with kitsch. McCoy does a good job of developing her character and carrying her, with some concessions to realism, though an arc very far removed from any likely reality. Credit should also go to Ladner, who makes the bold effort to do something with her small supporting role and portray the stepsister as a wounded, conflicteed individual, but of course that's never going to get her very far in a film like this.

The main problem with the film - beyond all the obvious ones - is that it just doesn't have enough bee action. Indeed, they almost feel as if they have been pasted in to a pre-established plot. It can't decide what it wants to be, where a successful creature feature really needs conviction.That said, it's pleasingly free of cheap CGI and there's enough substance there to entertain for most of the running time. Needless to say, it's a film best shared with friends, alcohol and perhaps a few pots of honey.

Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2021
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Royal Jelly packshot
A high school social outcast is taken under the wing of a mysterious mentor, only to be groomed as the hive's next queen.

Director: Sean Riley

Writer: Sean Riley

Starring: Elizabeth McCoy, Sherry Lattanzi, Jesse Hartsog. Raylen Ladner

Year: 2021

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US


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