Principal Cast : Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway, Ben Huber, Hanna Brown.
Synopsis: A young couple goes on their honeymoon to a secluded cabin in the forest (as you do). Not long after, weird, scary shit starts happening.
Remind me not say “I do” ever again.
Ahh, the beauty of young love. Nothing captures the essence of virginal union quite like two youngsters who are off on their honeymoon, a sanctioned period of copulation and intimacy that – for most people at least – will probably never reach those heights again. It’s a pity that it all has to end up so terrifying, as it does here in Honeymoon, an atmospheric, tense, at times scary film from director Leigh Janiak. Janiak, whose previous credits include production assistance on Europa Report and Mirror Mirror, delivers a convincing first film here, providing the basic story with some chilling visuals that do much to elevate the movie beyond simplistic thrills. Sure, it’s a film complete with standard genre moments (the isolated cabin in the woods, for starters) but somehow, Janiak’s astute construction of this gradual nightmare brings genuine chills to the skin.
Bea (Rose Leslie – Game of Thrones) and Paul (Harry Treadaway – City Of Ember) are newlyweds, off on their honeymoon, which just happens to be an old family cabin deep in the woods by a lake. Isolated, they expect to spend their time away together in peace, until Bea’s behaviour begins to trigger warning signs for Paul. After an apparent visitation during the night, Bea exhibits traits and behavioural issues that are so completely unlike her, they confuse her new husband, until he begins to dig a little deeper and discovers that perhaps Bea isn’t quite the person he married any longer.
Honeymoon shouldn’t work as well as it does. As a horror film, it is about as generic as it comes; the film chooses from one of the more prevalent genre settings, the isolated cabin in the woods (which I guess is on par with the standard Haunted House, and the Old Lunatic Asylum), it has minimal characters who are totally unprepared for the horrors about to befall them, and naturally no cellphone service or easy way of escape. Cue darkness, bumps in the night, and a shift from bright-n-breezy love and fun, to warped, icky, parasitic horror material I’d wager David Cronenberg would enormously appreciate. Honeymoon’s very premise should make any film fan roll their eyes in contempt, since the genre’s been hacked, kicked, cloned and beaten to death by schlocky, generic film-makers for the last several decades with cookie cutter entries of similar nature. How then does Honeymoon work so well? I mean, it’s generic, sure, but still effective in spite of itself.
The reason is twofold. First, the performances by stars Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway: you totally buy these two as husband and wife, and their chemistry sparkles during the early set-up moments of the film. As things start to go wrong, and take the turn into WTF Nightmare Version 1, the strain on their new marriage stretches, warps, and eventually breaks beyond salvaging (in spite of Paul’s desperate pleas): it is wrenching in the extreme. The film doesn’t play things too naturally, and the hyper-realism of the scenario starts to sizzle late in the story, but the breakdown of their still-wet vows is pivotal to the success of the movie overall. Leslie plays crazy well, and Treadaway is solid with the catchers mitt in backing her up.
The second element that works for the film is Leigh Janiak’s terrific creative decisions with what is a potentially derisive genre film. Filmed with what appears to be natural light, a lot of hand-held elements and a degree of skill at building tension, Honeymoon’s visual aesthetic is what keeps the whole thing from sliding into derivative, inane idiocy. Janiak gets that this film is generic, but works hard to make things feel fresh and unique through a near-lyrical quality of style. The opening act of the film feels a little like a Terrence Malick movie, very loose and free around the characters, before things take their darker turn, and I think as a visual quality it works well. The obviousness of the location to its disposition to be inherently scary during the night is negated by a fairly perfunctory style later on, focusing more on character rather than position on the planet, leaving most, if not all, the tension to be derived from the actors performances.
The thing I enjoyed about Honeymoon is that it goes somewhere really weird before the credits roll. Downbeat ending notwithstanding, Honeymoon seems prepared to get totally freaky without much explanation – sometimes this annoys the hell out of me, when stuff happens and there’s no resolution to the whys and wherefores, but in this instance I think it works to unsettle the viewer with jarring, icky, creepy moments of body-gore and shadowplay. One thing I noticed was the lack of real “boo” moments, a pleasant surprise, because films such as this usually rely on those moments way too often, resulting in overkill; Honeymoon relies yet again on the characters performances and the shapes in the shadows to generate the prickles on the skin, something I appreciated. Janiak also felt liberated to close the film with an utterly baffling ending, a real “is it…. aliens? Ghosts? Something man-made?” feeling of uncertainty, that rounds out this nice little slow-burn chiller with a sense of foreboding.
Honeymoon isn’t clever enough to stand out amongst the rest of the horror genre mix. It’s not even really that horrific, compared to a lot of the stuff on the market these days. Where gore-porn and gratuitous blood seem to be the norm in modern horror, Honeymoon finds its success in restraint and cerebral tantalization. Janiak’s sweet direction, Heather McIntosh’s tingling, evocative musical accompaniment, and the two leads doing their job well, add up to make Honeymoon an effective, scary, chilling encounter with…. something.