Ginger Nuts of Horror
The directorial debut of Leigh Janiak, Honeymoon stars Rose Leslie and Harry Treadway as Bea and Paul, two newlyweds who head to a remote lakeside cabin (I know, I know, but bear with it) for their honeymoon. Once there - in a place that appears to be a significant part of Bea's early life - things seem idyllic and perfect. That is, until Paul find Bea naked and shivering in the woods one night, the supposed result of sleep-walking. From there, Bea's personality begins to undergo subtle changes - mood swings, memory loss, strange wounds on her body - leading Paul to wonder who, or what, is living under his new wife's skin...
Okay, so the synopsis doesn't sound especially promising and to be honest, I had noticed this film in the shops for quite a few months, but was wary of buying precisely because I was worried it might be another generic failure, treading old, tired ground. Of course, I don't need everything to be wildly original, but taking a gamble on a well-made but familiar story always falls to the wayside when there's so much else out there to watch, and I'd heard virtually nothing about this film. Until I see a passing recommendation by Heather Wiscarson on Facebook (thanks Heather *waves*). So I bought it.
And thank fuck I did. What we have here is not a typical, jump-at-the-noises scary film, set in a woods/cabin. Instead, we have a slow-burning film that takes its time to develop the main characters and all their inherent and human quirks and foibles. Most especially, it shows a very convincing portrait of two young people (god I feel old saying that, but I'm probably closer to their parent's ages than theirs) who are in love and want to spend the rest of their lives together. This development is important - nay, essential - in order to make what follows as affecting as it possibly can be. To that end, it's clear that the right actors need to be chosen and the casting have done a sterling job here. Leslie is engaging and down to earth here - though I had real difficulty at first, separating her from the role she plays on Game Of Thrones - charismatic and happy, without being overly sweet. Treadway is, unlike many young male actors, very appealing and completely sympathetic. They both seem very sincere in their roles, which is just as well, as pretty much the entire film rests on their shoulders (there are two other minor characters who provide a mirror of sorts for what happens to Bea and Paul, but they are almost irrelevant, save for a bit of vague visual exposition late in the film).
As to that - it's one of those films that's difficult to describe without spoiling it, so I will try my best to be both vague and informative. First off, for a debut film, it's astonishingly well directed. There is an assuredness and level of professionalism here that completely belies both the low budget and the fact that it's Janiak's fist film (I can't wait to see what she does next - in a way, it's just as promising a debut as The Babadook) - part of this is the hiring of extremely professional actors, but mostly it's the script, the pacing and the cinematography. Secondly, it completely eschews 'jump scares' - there's not a single one. Instead, it relies on atmosphere, on the viewers imagination and investment in the film, and on the strong central performances. And this is where the initial build-up of character pays off - we like these people, we feel they could be folk we know, and we feel for what they're going through. As to that, well - that's the mystery. Is what's happening to Bea real? Is it simply a case of sleep-walking or is there something supernatural going on? Or psychological? Is it possible it's actually in Paul's head (because this did occur to me at one point)? This is something else it has in common with The Babadook, and other films that deal with personality changes in horror - there's a fair bit of interpretation and allegory here. I don't want to get to deep into it, but I felt the film touches on such things as schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, paranoid states, the physical and mental symptoms of abuse; there's a lot here, if you want to look for it. If not, there's still a wonderfully made film that, while not particularly outright scary, is still drenched in atmosphere, and has one of the most difficult scenes I've watched in a long time. Ultimately, like the best horror films and books, it's not about the horror, it's about the people.
There are a couple of places where it nearly loses it. The first is a scene early on showing Bea and Paul going fishing, a happy, life affirming scene - and the music is very schmaltzy, almost too much so; it sidles right up to that line but thankfully, never crosses it. The other is the final scenes where we nearly see the reveal of...well, the reveal of something. It just about holds it for me, and keeps the air of ambiguity, but it felt close and I think if they'd shown any more, it would have let the film down.
However, these are tiny points and Honeymoon has actually been one of the best films I've seen in while, certainly I was pleasingly surprised by a movie that looks, for all intents and purposes, like any other 'creepy' horror set in the woods, in a remote cabin. It's not. It's a very confident bit of film-making and continues to show - for me at least - that some of the best films are currently being made completely under the radar. Watch it yourself, you might just like it.