Inspired by the tragic events surrounding the murder of Shakilus Townsend in 2008, Honeytrap tells the story of Layla, a fifteen year old girl from Trinidad who returns to live with her estranged young mother in Brixton after years of living with her grandmother and abusive grandfather.
When Layla steps off the tube in Brixton, she is an innocent, naïve girl complete with childlike clothes, a drawing of Beyoncé and a belief that she was going to follow in her idol’s footsteps one day. Little did she know how her life would turn completely upside down when she fell into the line of fire of gang culture, love and jealousy.
She meets Shaun (Ntonga Mwanza) en route to the filming of a music video starring Troy (Lucien Laviscount). These two boys become her love interests, flirting with the classic love triangle characteristic in a young adult film. Shaun is the social outsider who is kind, gentle and completely trustworthy, whereas Troy is the bad boy complete with good looks, laddish charm and an underlying vulnerability.
It is obvious which boy entraps Layla in a dizzy spell of romance, high hopes and true love – in her mind. Troy pays her attention, picks her up in a nice (stolen) car and whispers sweet lies into her ears. He is her everything. She is his bit of ass. This is until two of Layla’s frenemies spill the truth of Troy’s ways by showing her a video of him in a compromising position. This leads to an outburst outside of Troy’s home where Layla is kicked in the stomach repeatedly by the girl starring in the video.
What Layla does next is shocking and unexpected. She decides there and then that she hates Troy, leading her to befriending Shaun a little more than she should. He buys her a decent phone; he doesn’t expect anything from her. He is the perfect gentleman, but that is not enough for Layla. She craves Troy, and again they collide in a moment of destructive passion where he makes her his, and only his, possession. This is where things turn dark, for when she is caught meeting Shaun, Troy goes ballistic, leading to the honey trap of Shaun.
Jessica Sula plays the female lead with honesty, dedication and makes a compelling argument that girls are still easily influenced by their surrounding peers. The way that Sula plays both the wide eyed innocent and the sultry yet vulnerable woman who knows exactly what she wants is incredible and deserving of a massive applause.
Likewise, both male leads should be commended too. Lucien Laviscount gives the bad boy stereotype a revamp. Yes he makes terrible decisions, and he is cruel right at the end. However, there is innocence with him and his friends which is illustrated through the casual afternoon sitting at home playing on the play station like most teenage boys do. They laugh, mess around and enjoy each other’s company before one thing ticks him off and sends him into seeing red.
Ntonga Mwanza is fantastic as Shaun. He embodies the outsider who is trying to make a difference. He doesn’t follow the crowd: he helps his mum with looking after the family, he genuinely likes Layla for who she is and he avoids the gang-related drama surrounding Troy. Each actor plays a part in creating a high tension through their screaming tears, accidental laughter which only rises through complete shock and expressions of utter disbelief about the events that have unfolded before them.
Honeytrap is a British film directed and produced by a group of very talented women. Rebecca Johnson wrote and directed the film because she wanted to portray children for what they are: children. No matter what they have done, “dehumanising children, even if they’ve been involved in abhorrent violence, is not the solution,” says Johnson. Honeytrap tells the story of not only a terrible tragedy, but the lives that were involved, thus showing that not everything is as black and white as what we read in the papers or see on the television.
It is a film that needs to be seen by the British public in order to see a portrayal of the teenage lives behind the stories we hear about from people who are extremely different to them. Fantastic performances, gritty realism and an underlying voice wanting to reach out to teens and adults everywhere, Honeytrap is the British film to watch this year.
Honeytrap is released in UK cinemas on May 8th