Being in a committed relationship has it’s ups and downs. Marriage itself induces a number of fears and anxiety in those who enter it rather they are willing to admit it or not. Regardless of how sure you are that you want to spend your life with someone there are always moments of doubt or moments where you maybe feel like you don’t know your significant other as well as you thought you did. Now in real life there’s one of two outcomes, you either snap out of it and keep growing your relationship thus extinguishing those fears or divorce because you can’t possibly face trying to solve the issues. In a horror movie though, simply trying to ignore these feelings becomes entirely too dangerous and impossible. First time director Leigh Janiak plays with those fears and doubts masterfully in HONEYMOON. This ultra low budget horror film cleverly mixes drama and horror from beginning to end, even though the ending really left a little bereft.
Please don’t start writing me all fired up that you and your significant other have the most perfect relationship in the world and that you’ve never had the fears and anxiety I described above. If you feel that way, good for you, I’m happy for you- but I won’t believe you. Hit me up on Twitter and we can compare relationship notes there. The fact of the matter is that in the beginning HONEYMOON seems to be painting a portrait of two people totally and madly in love- and for all intents and purposes, they are or appear to be. That would be precisely why Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) decided to tie the knot. The film opens with them recording video messages to each other after the wedding (I think) before we see them driving together to Bea’s family’s vacation home. Everything seems to be going swimmingly as the two go out and enjoy their surroundings in between humping like rabbits. Then one night Paul wakes up to find Bea standing out in the middle of the woods naked and unaware of how she’d gotten there. Paul becomes suspicious of Bea’s late night disappearance especially when she begins to behave in increasingly bizarre ways. Paul’s suspicions grow as he begins to believe Bea’s behavior is somehow linked to a strange encounter they had with someone from her past.
HONEYMOON is one of those movies best approached knowing very little about it. Even my premise probably goes a step too far, but really, it doesn’t give anything away. If my original instincts kicked in and I’d simply wrote that the movie is about a couple on a honeymoon and one starts acting weird, I doubt that’s draw anyone to see it. If you polled 100 husbands/wives and asked if their spouse has ever acted weird 100 of those responses would be, “duh.” The mystery of Bea’s behavior is obviously a huge part of the film, but it’s Paul’s reactions to the behavior and how he goes about trying to snap her out of it and trying to figure it out that is the other part. No matter how long I’ve been married thing that I think about often that would freak me out about my wife is if I woke up in the middle of the night and found her almost anywhere else but in bed looking all dead eyed. Thinking about it now gives me goosebumps and I sympathized greatly with Paul’s character in this.
I don’t make a habit of referring to other folk’s reviews when I write my own and I won’t call out the review specifically- mainly because I don’t even remember where I read it- but I did see one review which tore this movie apart based on the male and female gender roles. I cannot disagree more on this point. The review painted Bea as the typical male perspective of a helpless weak female with a domineering male counterpart who comes off as rapey. I can’t imagine a more damaging and misleading opinion to throw out in regards to this film. It’s true that things do get a little awkward and characters may not react as everyone would react in a similar situation, but I didn’t find anything in this to be out of character for how these two’s relationship was set up. Paul and Bea are written to be an extremely sexual couple- almost every scene before what happens in the woods it seems like they are trying to have sex or coax the other into having sex. Yet when things get weird Paul tries to act how he would if Bea wasn’t acting weird and somehow that makes him a possible rapist in some people’s eyes? I imagine the view I read is not the only view of the character and I dare not prowl the IMDb message boards to prove my point.
Essentially part of Bea’s increasingly weird behavior is that she does not want to have sex AT ALL. And as I said before, these two in the beginning were copulating like bunnies so I feel as though Paul simply trying to engage in the act with his wife is not out of character. Paul even catches Bea practicing how she plans to turn him down when he tries to have sex with her. Granted when that comes back around his persistence makes things awkward for sure, but not once does Paul try to rape his wife. It is my interpretation of Janiak’s script and the characters as written that Paul is simply scared and cannot fathom what has become of his wife that she won’t even let him touch her. The drama of it is just that…drama. Janiak does a great job at setting these characters up as sympathetic and I highly doubt the intention for the last half of the movie is for the audience to hate the rapist that Paul has turned into.
With that unpleasantness out of the way the performances in HONEYMOON are fantastic. Until this I don’t recall having seen Treadaway in anything and I thought he was great. There’s a broad range of emotion his character has to go through throughout the course of the film- even more so than Leslie’s character. Treadaway switches on and off from concerned, confused, scared and frustrated so many times throughout. Rose Leslie is just adorable to me. It is a bit tough to get past the almost sickly sweet beginnings we see of these two as a couple, but Leslie is consistently impossible not to admire- except when things get gross during the finale. Although her Game of Throne’s performance was tough for me to shake off; at times when Treadaway was questioning her I almost expected her to bust out a stone cold glare, break the American accent and say, “You know nothin Paul Snow.”
This was obviously a micro-budget movie, but still the film looks phenomenal. A vast majority of the scenes are just two people talking/arguing in a specific setting, but the cinematography is top notch. Being as low budget as it is the film really relies on the strength of the two main characters and very little on special effects or tons of horrific gore and violence. That being said, there are some pretty icky moments during the finale that were pretty tough even for my gore hardened horror palate. Sometimes being so low budget over explaining elements of the plot become a crutch of filmmakers/writers and Janiak manages to leave a whole lot of mystery for people to debate about when the credits roll. The ending itself is somewhat weak, but everything to that point is mysterious enough that even when what is happening is obvious there are still questions to ask.
With a movie like HONEYMOON, pacing is everything and the movie is paced perfectly- especially for fans of slow burning horror movies. There’s a very precise arc of beginning, middle and end and the progression of events is just wonderful filmmaking. The combination of engaging character drama, horror and tension is really astounding coming from a first time writer/director. Janiak’s script is mesmorizing and her direction is spot on. I’m left to wonder though if she had some issues finding a satisfying conclusion to this particular story. There are parts of it that work, but the actual ending left a little to be desired. HONEYMOON is an amazing little horror gem with flawless performances and some truly upsetting moments. The human drama that ties the film together really makes for some unbearably tense emotions that give much of the finale the gut punch it needs. HONEYMOON is one wicked little excursion you won’t soon forget.