Rebecca Johnson helms a compassionate, well-informed British crime drama
This affecting and ultimately devastating British drama about falling for the wrong man tells an urban crime story from the perspective of a teenage girl, without revelling in the associated machismo. Loosely inspired by real events, debut writer-director Rebecca Johnson's film offers a sympathetic and well-informed look behind the headlines.
It's the story of Layla (Jessica Sula), a sweet, painfully shy 15-year-old who arrives from Trinidad to stay with her estranged mother Shiree (Naomi Ryan) in Brixton. The two women are virtual strangers after ten years apart and their interactions are consequently strained. Layla is a talented artist who looks up to Beyoncé and who thinks she's met her Jay Z when she catches the eye of local rapper Troy (Lucien Laviscount), but he's not the gentleman he first seems. Watching helplessly from the sidelines is Layla's smitten friend Shaun (Ntonga Mwanza).
The role of girls in UK gangs has only recently, and only very tentatively, been addressed with a tragic picture of exploitation emerging. Layla's story is all the more heartbreaking because Johnson never lets us forget her age and gentle nature; the story is punctuated by her naive romantic delusions, and desperate attempts to please her impossible mother and to fit in with her hard-faced peers. Adrift in unfamiliar, dog-eat-dog environs, failed by a malfunctioning education system and a damaged, disinterested parent, she simply has no-one to show her a better way.
There are moments of slightly amateurish uncertainty in this low budget effort – a pool montage springs to mind – but, for the most part, Honeytrap is all too real. Layla's turmoil is delicately and meticulously conveyed by the astonishing Sula; such a beautifully subtle performance is so rarely seen at the centre of a movie that it feels courageous. Johnson has experience working with the area's teens and it shows, with her film speaking for those caught up in crime. It acts as a beacon of compassion in a society blind to hardship, where it's tough to stand apart from those around you and where crimes are reported without context. This is a little film with a lot of power.
Selected release from Fri 8 May.