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Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey Is a Genuinely Uncomfortable Watch - In a Good Way
Let's take a closer look at one of horror's more infamous 2023 releases.
We're used to horror films that take seemingly harmless things and make them into monsters. It's the entire root of the haunted house genre, to begin with, and has since been applied to everything from dolls to puppets to a pair of jeans. It's been done so often, and with so many subjects, that we tend to react with chuckles rather than screams much of the time, leading many of these kinds of films to veer into the horror-comedy space.
So when you hear that someone made a horror film based on A.A. Milne's beloved children's book character Winnie the Pooh, you sort of expect another gigglefest full of knowing winks and very basic, familiar gags rooted in our cultural knowledge of the character and his various incarnations. Watching Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, in other words, sounds like a lark.
How Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey succeeds as a solid horror film
What we actually got when director Rhys Frake-Waterfield's movie was released earlier this year is something else altogether. For all the meme-ability inherent in its title, and the negative reviews it got upon release, there's something else at work in this movie beyond a gag, and even beyond simply dumping buckets of gore on Milne's characters. For all its unevenness and gimmicky premise, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is a viscerally uncomfortable viewing experience, and that alone is enough to make it a horror success story in its own particular way.
The premise, for those of you who might not know, is rather simple. In Frake-Waterfield's version of the story, Pooh and his woodland friends aren't the stuffed animals of a boy called Christopher Robin. They're human-animal hybrids that the boy simply found in the woods and befriended, creating a magical space in the Hundred Acre Wood that only ended when Christopher went off to college. The catch, of course, is that while the boy thought his friends would be fine, Pooh and his fellow creatures had trouble surviving in the woods, to the point that they eventually had to kill and eat Eeyore. The trauma of the experience turned them feral and made them swear vengeance on Christopher Robin, which brings us to the present day.
The rest of the film, at least in terms of basic plot, goes about how you'd expect. Christopher (Nikolia Leon) is kidnapped by Pooh and Piglet, while a group of young women led by Maria (Maria Taylor) head out into the woods to a rented house for a getaway, unaware of the horrors that await them. These two storylines converge as the body count climbs, and it becomes clear that Pooh is hellbent on leaving no survivors.
So far, predictable, right? There are clear horror rhythms here, made more intriguing by the hook of the premise, but if you've seen enough horror movies, you're probably expecting a lot of what's happening next. That's an understandable reaction, and indeed I did find much of this film to be playing by reliable old rules of horror narratives. What sets Blood and Honey apart, though, and what makes it interesting, is how far Frake-Waterfield and company are willing to go with the premise.
The version of Pooh in this film is not just a killer, but an all-out monster, smearing honey on his face to keep himself going as he shreds through victim after victim, with Piglet and his complement of heavy torture chains by his side. Watching him work is never particularly funny, even when you factor in the somewhat silly nature of the hook. It's not that you'll never chuckle at the idea, but as the film goes on, you start to think of Pooh less and less as a meme-able character in a gimmick horror film, and more and more like a genuine perversion of your childhood. The film confronts this idea, dares you to examine it, even when its own thematic concerns start to get a bit muddled. Then, by the end, Frake-Waterfield dials the savagery all the way up to 11, leaving you with a sense of genuine discomfort and unease.
So yes, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is in many ways exactly the movie you think it is, but where it succeeds is in creating a real feeling of something forbidden, something designed to leave you unsettled and even feeling a little gross. For all its strangeness, it achieves that with room to spare, and that's the mark of a solid horror film.
Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is now streaming on Peacock.