It’s time for the 31 Days of Horror: 2014 Edition. For those of you who weren’t around for last year’s journey, the plan is to watch at least 31 horror movies I’ve never seen before and review them all. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy my journey down the rabbit hole.
Honeymoon unfolds with a confused sense of what type of film it wants to be. Is it a claustrophobic domestic drama about a newlywed couple’s descent from happiness to disillusionment with each other? Is it a horror/sci-fi film in the mold of Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Is it a look at one woman’s sudden onset of mental illness and the psychological toll that takes on her confused husband? The film eventually tries—and fails—to be all these things. In the process, it has some great scenes and boasts two very good performances, but I’m not sure that makes it a good movie.
The film starts with Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) at the height of their collective happiness. We meet them as they make a video at their wedding, describing their first date and how Paul proposed. As a piece of exposition combined with character introductions, it’s efficient, if a little precious.
Honeymooning at a summer cottage in a secluded part of the Canadian wilderness, the film finds its focus by showing how solid a couple Bea and Paul actually are. They go boating, fishing, make love, have their breakfast routine down to a science, and communicate like two people who are actually meant to be together. Aside from a brief, ominous shot of a light shining in their bedroom window while they sleep, the film could simply be a romantic comedy that is missing any contrived conflict. In fact, while this section of the film does a better job of building the characters and their love for each other than the wedding video, it is actually a little too long and had me wondering when the plot would finally kick in.
At a nearby restaurant, Bea and Paul run in to Will (Ben Huber) and his wife Annie (Hanna Brown). To Paul’s consternation, Bea and Will had a childhood crush on each other from when her family used to vacation at the cottage. Will is an intense alpha male—very much the opposite of Paul’s laidback city dweller. Annie seems to be suffering from some sort of mental illness that has Will acting aggressively, leaving both Bea and Paul unnerved.
That night, Bea disappears briefly before Paul finds her wandering naked in the woods. She claims she was sleepwalking, but her behavior changes in ways that panic Paul and she has strange marks on her thighs that she claims are just bug bites. You can probably guess where the film goes from there.
As a horror film, Honeymoon works very well at creating a sense of dread. From the moment Paul finds Bea in the woods, co-writer/director Leigh Janiak ratchets up the tension of not knowing what happened to her and just how bad things will get before answers are offered up. Much of this part of the film works due to the sympathetic performances of Leslie and Treadaway, as Bea and Paul each exhibit their own increasing desperation that brings them into constant conflict. She tries far too hard to convince him that everything is fine, while he hounds her for answers at every turn. When he doesn’t get answers, he assumes the worst and turns his frustration and paranoia on Will.
The film stumbles when it tries to portray Paul’s paranoia as misplaced jealousy about Will. Janiak seems to want to shift audience sympathy from Paul and his confusion to Bea and her attempts to hold on to a semblance of normality. But portraying Paul as a jerk for jumping to conclusions about Bea and Will makes no sense. Bea’s behavior after her disappearance is erratic and consistent with someone in shock and denial of a traumatic event. While Paul’s insistence on finding answers from someone—even if it is from the man he thinks may have assaulted his wife—is obsessive, it is understandable. Trying to briefly frame him as a villain confuses the narrative in ways that are more frustrating than intriguing.
The film regains its footing in a third act that roots it back in the horror/sci-fi genre, even throwing in a touch of Cronenberg-style body horror. The climax and resolution play out as expected, but that doesn’t make the conclusion any less disquieting. If Janiak hadn’t been so concerned with underlining her allegorical points about how people fear the change that comes with marriage, Honeymoon would be a very good movie. Instead, it feels like a promising first feature by a filmmaker who would do well to trust the audience to understand the subtext on their own.
The film is currently available on VOD and will be in theaters later this year.
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