Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director: Leigh Janiak
Writer: Phil Graziadei, Leigh Janiak
Producer: Patrick Baker, Esme Howard
Stars: Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway, Ben Huber, Hanna Brown
While honeymooning at a secluded cabin in the woods, a young husband comes to suspect that his new wife may not be who he thinks she is.
Even before suspicions of infidelity, cold feet, and outright body snatching begin brewing, Bea and Paul’s honeymoon is already off to a pretty lousy start. Paris or Hawaii might be cliché romantic getaway destinations, but what couple in their right mind would instead choose a dusty woodland cabin for making their first “just married” memories?
Whatever the reason, Bea and Paul’s post-ceremony plans involve a holiday at Bea’s old family cabin that she has presumably been to a million times before. It’s the kind of creaky cottage that would barely be swank enough for a weekend kegger with college buddies, much less a proper kickstart to wedded bliss. Nonetheless, while others celebrate their nuptials by sipping fine wines on white sand beaches, Bea and Paul are busy getting sunburns and sore arms from paddling a canoe and making all their own meals.
Bea and Paul are not exactly presented as cash-strapped young lovers with more affection than money between them, although there is little doubt about them being in love. “Honeymoon” actually goes overboard in their introduction to the point where cute teeters towards obnoxious.
It may be necessary to show the new bride and groom as madly into each other in order to make the coming conflict more wrenching. Yet husband and wife are splashed together in such liberal doses of overdramatized sweetness that it feels like a science experiment determined to force chemistry no matter what.
“Honeymoon” recovers from that laid on thick exposition thanks to outstanding performances from Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie as the two leads. In fact, independent filmmakers might take a memo: you don’t need headliner level names to carry a film, just reliable rising talent that can broaden a premise through quality acting.
Bea and Paul take a stroll down a dirt path to a questionably located restaurant that is somehow in business despite being in a remote forest outside of tourist season and without another soul remotely in sight. There, the newlyweds run into Will, who had some sort of a past with Bea when the two were younger and vacationed in the area with their families. Not to bring it up again, but awkward chance encounters with childhood crushes are far less likely when snorkeling in the Bahamas instead of roughing it in familiar woods for a honeymoon.
Will’s wife Annie behaves in a peculiar manner. And Will acts oddly towards her. This gives Bea and Paul their first clue that something might be amiss amongst the trees.
That night, bright lights sweep slowly across the cabin. Paul wakes to discover that Bea is gone. A frantic search uncovers Bea naked in the night without any recollection of how she got there. With each passing day from there on out, Bea’s behavior grows gradually stranger. Eventually, Paul comes to wonder if she is even still Bea at all.
This is the point where “Honeymoon” stamps the viewer’s passport to detach from the film. When a bright beam of light summons a nude sleepwalker into dark woods and said somnambulist returns acting like a completely different person, there is not much mystery about what took place when you are watching a horror movie.
But Paul does not know he is starring in one. So when he sees Bea’s demeanor morphing, he racks his brain with questions like, is she having second thoughts about marriage? Is she hiding a dark secret from her past? Is she rekindling an old flame with Will?
The trouble is, those questions place Paul far behind what the audience already suspects about the true origin of Bea’s affliction. Which puts Paul alone in his struggle to grasp what is happening to his wife and to his marriage. The audience ends up watching him passively instead of experiencing a maddening mystery alongside him. With Bea now a possessed shell, that leaves the viewer without any hook into the fiction at all.
Much of the press around “Honeymoon” has made mention of underlying metaphors about how well one knows his/her spouse and the sacrifice of identity when entering a relationship. Those can be heady concepts, but “Honeymoon” is too straightforward as a two-person terror tale to add satisfying depth to those ideas.
Bea’s situation is so clear in nature that intangible threads involving what might be changing her never ring as legitimate possibilities. Paul may be futilely solving a puzzle he has crafted in his head, but there is never any real question about “Honeymoon” being much more than a body snatcher movie about physical metamorphosis. Any subtext inferred comes from digging for something to interpret and not a conscious message that the movie promotes about the nature of trust and security.
Despite the miscues on social commentary and a slow-rolling first half, “Honeymoon” still manages to strike a sickly tone of eeriness. Strong performances and a tense atmosphere go a long way towards counterbalancing the cerebral overreach and freshman faux pas of a first-time feature filmmaker.
With its simple focus on achievable results and an economic production, “Honeymoon” is the right project for director Leigh Janiak to cut her teeth on. “Honeymoon” has its work cut out for it in rising to the top amongst the revival crop of recent body horror like “Almost Human” (review here), “Antiviral” (review here), “Contracted” (review here), and “Thanatomorphose” (review here). But there is still an undeniable quality about its haunting mood that suggests Janiak is capable of turning in something even better on her next go.
Review Score: 60