Royal Jelly is a milky-white, rich, nutritional substance secreted by worker bees and fed to all bee larvae as well as the queen. It’s also the title of a new film from writer/director Sean Riley (Fighting Belle). While bees and horror aren’t exactly strangers to each other, there’s The Deadly Bees, The Swarm, and the grindhouse classic Invasion of the Bee Girls among others, they’re not overly common either so it’s nice to see something a little different for a change. But can it live up to the buzz it’s generated?
Aster (Elizabeth McCoy, Twisted Ambitions) is a goth beekeeper, a combination that makes her a social pariah at her high school. Things aren’t any better for her at home where her half-sister Drew (Raylen Ladner) and stepmother Tremaine (Fiona McQuinn, Hallowed Be Thy Name) treat her like shit. Her father Jody (Jonas Chartock, Vampire Bud) seems to care about her, but not enough to find his balls and tell them to cut the shit.
Things start to change when the school gets a new teacher, Tresa (Sherry Lattanzi) who shares her love of beekeeping. She takes Aster under her wings, but as is usually the case in films like this, things aren’t what they seem.
Royal Jelly was very obviously influenced by Carrie, one of the characters even mentions it. But since we can guess that any revenge that is going to occur will involve bees, I was reminded more of 1970s films like Kiss of the Tarantula where an ostracized teen used spiders to get her revenge. Or Jennifer, where the title character uses her psychic link with snakes to deal with her bitchy classmates.
And while I would have loved to see Royal Jelly take the route of Argento’s Phenomena with its flying insect attack on the school, what we get is loads of drama filled with people I couldn’t stand. Drew and her mother are absolute assholes, and her father is so spineless I wanted to punch him. After Drew and her friends destroy her hives Aster runs away and Tresa takes her in. That doesn’t seem creepy at all does it? If Royal Jelly’s publicity, including it’s IMDB entry, hadn’t given the plot away I would have expected an entirely different kind of grooming was going on.
Finally in the last half hour, Royal Jelly shifts gears into horror but it’s a bit late. What happens in the last fifteen minutes should have occurred at around the halfway mark and the plot going on from there. Instead, it feels like the entire film was a setup for a sequel.
There isn’t even much in the way of effects here. The set of wings one character grows looks so bad even the dollar store wouldn’t sell them at Halloween. The fangs do look a bit better, but since when do bees have a big set of vampire fangs? That’s the level Royal Jelly is operating on, fanged bee people with wings that look like they’re made from Saran Wrap with a wire frame.
With its ludicrous final act and horrible effects, Royal Jelly might have worked as an absurd comedy along the lines of The VelociPastor or Killer Sofa. But it takes too long to get to the horror and then plays everything straight no matter how ridiculous the film gets. If they had only gotten to the point sooner and then let the occupants of the hive loose for the final act it could have been an enjoyably cheesy film. Instead, it’s a dull and annoyingly stupid film with an extremely frustrating ending.
Uncork’d Entertainment will release Royal Jelly to Digital and VOD platforms on September 14th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information.