HONEYMOON starts out and it’s almost disgusting how in love with each other Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) are. As the title would suggest, it’s their honeymoon. They’re newlyweds. They have no shortage of sex to have, of inside jokes and loving horseplay to make. They’re off to Bea’s family’s lakeside cabin to celebrate their new married lives together. At first, as they mosey around half-naked, cook pancakes, swim in the lake, etc., it seems like they’re enjoying pure connubial glory.
A David Cronenberg-esque downward spiral would have to ruin that, wouldn’t it?
There’s a white flash in the middle of the night. Some dark force seems to stalk the woods. There’s a childhood friend of Bea’s they run into who’s definitely, definitely not behaving normally. Neither is his girlfriend. Bea’s not known to sleepwalk, either. Well, she’s sleepwalking now. She’s wandering off deep into the woods, too.
When she starts forgetting who she is, when Paul catches her writing down mnemonic notes on her basic identity, it becomes clear: something is up. The slime on a variety of her possessions is strange, too.
Things escalate and escalate to some revolting body horror and Bea finding an eventual “new home” in the heart of the woods.
Like Ti West at his best in THE INNKEEPERS, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and THE SACRAMENT, HONEYMOON is an exercise in the building of tension. Nothing bad happens for so long . . . then . . . blecch. A sense of danger is created out of the initial glaring lack of danger.
So, yes. You have the slow burn approach, which is becoming en vogue again (IT FOLLOWS). This approach works very well for HONEYMOON. Maybe the revelation of the danger at hand isn’t as shocking in this one as it is in the aforementioned West titles, but things still get damn creepy. Your jaw hangs open through the final act. Mine did, anyway. It’s a hell of a climax.
Did I mention it does wonders with its minimal budget? This couldn’t have appropriated funds in accordance with ambitions better.
But what’s great, chiefly, about HONEYMOON is how convincing Bea and Paul’s relationship is. They’re both quite eccentric and fun, and it’s tragic how, as Bea is slipping, part of her still—instinctually—wants to keep things normal, and so does Paul, as he tries to wrap his mind around what’s happening to his wife. They’re so trenchantly committed to each other throughout the film, which makes this a horror love tragedy: a unique take on the genre. The Autumnal vibe the cinematography gives off is excellent, too, as is the claustrophobic musical score and the grotesque—but sparing—makeup fx. (I mentioned David Cronenberg earlier, didn’t I?)
Overall, HONEYMOON is worth seeing for its fantastic sense of realism, its brilliant intimate performances, and the tragedy it injects into the genre. The directorial debut of Leigh Janiak, I can’t wait to see what else she has in store. This movie, for the most part, scared me shitless.