After the ceremony comes the ritual.
The year 2014 was great for fans of small films that offer unique, tension-filled takes on horror. Taut indies like Under the Skin and The Babadook made their bones on the festival circuit and have since gone on to mass appeal and mentions on many “Best Of 2014” lists. Another film that fits the “tense indie festival darling” mold comes Honeymoon, a unique horror film from a female first-time director.
Bea (Rose Leslie, Game of Thrones) and Paul (Harry Treadway, Penny Dreadful) are newlyweds who take their honeymoon trip to Bea’s old family cabin in the woods. There is nothing to do where they are other than become acquainted with nature…including the birds and bees. The passionate and romantic couple is having the time of their lives until one night when Paul awakes and Bea is missing. He finally finds her naked in the woods, seemingly sleeping while standing. He wakes her and brings her inside.
She insists she was only sleepwalking, but as the days pass, Bea changes. Physically, she develops marks on her inner-thighs that she plays off as nothing more than mosquito bites. Bridging the physical and the emotional, her interest in sex disappears. Emotionally, she changes too; she grows distant yet combative. Paul’s world is crumbling, and he can’t help but wonder if a local old flame they ran into has something to do with it.
Honeymoon is The Goods.
What Leigh Janiak does in her directorial debut is dazzling. She cleverly uses a wedding tape to introduce us to, and familiarize us with, her characters. In several minutes, we see, hear, and feel how much this couple is in love with each other as they recount, to the camera, those adorable couple things gushing newlyweds did to get to the aisle. It sounds contrived, but it works incredibly well here. Much of that is thanks to Leslie and Treadway, who manage to play lovestruck without being saccharine-sweet. They get it done throughout the film, really, and they have to; one or both of them appear in every scene. Next, Janiak relies on a traditional horror device, a cabin in the woods, as her setting. But she twists it and makes it more like a quaint cottage, complete with nothing to do but whatever it is newlyweds do when there’s nothing to do.
Soon, though, there are a pair of interesting speed bumps the honeymoon hits: an overt one involving running into that old family friend and former flame of Bea’s, and a somewhat subtle one involving a misunderstanding between Bea and Paul about having children, but these aren’t just the things they are on the surface. This is where Janiak (who co-wrote with Phil Graziadei) dives deeper. This is where the seeds of doubt find their way into the very young marriage. This is when things go from glorious to dire in no time flat. After the incident in woods, Bea’s emotional changes create more doubt in Paul which creates more tension when the two are together until suddenly there is full-blown suspicion in one corner and denial and deceit in the other.
This is the real genius of Honeymoon: the horror the characters live through is more than just the traditional scary stuff that comes in the third act. The horror is that this relationship deteriorates at such a blistering pace. In about a week, Paul and Bea throttle through a marital lifecycle that some relationships take years or decades, if at all, to spiral down. That’s the real horror in Honeymoon.
That ending, though. While the final resolution is incredibly satisfying, the better part of the ending is almost disappointing. It isn’t bad; Janiak shoots it well and it certainly has its scary moments. But the run-up to it is so sublime that the ending is almost unworthy to be in the same film.
Janiak and cinematographer Kyle Klutz achieve a very natural look in Honeymoon, which the 1.85:1 1080p transfer on the Magnolia Blu-ray complements incredibly well. Daytime scenes are clean and sharp and devoid of anything too visually tourism brochure-like. Nighttime scenes are dark and shadowy, yet never murky. Again, it’s a very natural look. The sound of the DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is natural too, and it delvers. There is a lot of dialogue and many sounds of nature that need to be properly mixed, but remain unsettled once the film’s score is integrated. The result is an excellent aural experience.
The Blu-ray comes with five featurettes and three different trailers for the film:
Interview with Actors Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway: The leads sit together and discuss all aspects of the filmmaking process.
Interview with Director Leigh Janiak: The first-time writer/director is interviewed for 7:28 about the film. Her story reaches back to the genesis of the idea that became the film and covers everything from casting to lighting.
The Worm Behind the Scenes: An extended outtake where Leslie struggles, and mightily, taking a live worm out of a bait box.
Canoe Behind the Scenes: For 2:33, Leslie and Treadway shoot a canoe scene.
AXS TV: A Look at Honeymoon: This final entry, running 2:23, is a promotional mash-up of scenes from the film and excerpts from the interviews with Leslie, Treadway, and Janiak.
Four trailers are also included on the disc.
Unconventional, well-conceived, and very well-crafted, Honeymoon certainly holds its own when compared to its “tense indie festival darling” contemporaries. No sooner was it over, I wanted to watch it again; I wanted to look for the little things I might have missed. This is a great effort from freshman director Janiak, and I look forward to her sophomore effort.