The debut feature from newcomer writer/director Leigh Janiak and her writing partner Phil Graziadei, Honeymoon is a solid and unsettling exploration of interpersonal relationships contained within a much broader Horror-film structure. Starring Game of Thrones’s Rose Leslie and Control’s Harry Treadway as couple Bea and Paul, the film tracks a relationship as seemingly innocuous occurrences begin to tear it apart. I was meant to cover Honeymoon as part of MonsterFest 2014, (in fact it was my favourite feature to screen at the festival) so I am glad that with its Australian home video release I finally have a chance to sing its praises. While the film is far from perfect, its creepy, unsettling opening hour is up there with the best modern horror cinema coming out of America right now and Honeymoon is worth a look off the back of that alone.
The film opens like a typical independent romantic comedy – a couple’s wedding video is intercut with footage of them driving to their honeymoon location, an old-fashioned rustic log cabin in the wilderness. It’s witty and charming, the sort of opening that immediately ties you into the emotional arcs of our leads; they are likable, we feel happy for them, and we are invested in their journey. It’s a surprising opening that does not conform to traditional horror tropes and even made me question that I’d put the right film on until the opening titlecard appeared. From here though, things kick into full gear – while the latter half devolves into something we see in a lot of other films of this type the first half focuses on something a lot more real and tangible in everyday life, the real life terror of crumbling interpersonal relationships. As small things begin to drive a wedge between Bea and Paul (semantics, misinterpreted questions and answers lead to awkward silences and exchanges), the overbearing dread that comes from commitment to someone you don’t know as well as you thought you did begins to set in.1 Whilst there are also horrific, visually-uncomfortable events that occur about two-thirds of the way into the film,2 these moments pale in comparison to the visceral feelings of a crumbling relationship, and are far less effective than the uncomfortable exchanges between Bea and Paul, two people who increasingly begin to feel that they’ve rushed into a marriage, stuck in a constant futile struggle to make things work as the film goes on. It’s not often that a horror movie comes around that works with extremely relatable psychological elements and toys so perfectly with the horrors of everyday life, and I do wish that Janiak stuck with this theme more, although there are some truly well-executed visually arresting scares in the film’s latter half that are also quite effective.
For whatever reason, this film really clicked with me in spite of a few glaring flaws. It does clearly shift in quality in the final 30 or so minutes when it moves from psychological horror into a much more visually visceral arena, although in saying this the latter section isn’t necessarily bad, just weak in comparison. This is a really impressive feature debut from a new voice in the horror scene and, unlike a lot of her contemporaries, I could definitely see Janiak successfully merging her style into much more mainstream genres and don’t think she will be confined to just one specific style in the future – I’m definitely looking forward to her next collaboration with Graziadei.
Working in a genre where you can make guaranteed money in the straight to video market for making your film as gross or controversial as possible, or even simply stunt-casting a few actors, it’s really great to see someone engage with some of these common tropes in a film that doesn’t even remotely rely on or place focus on these aspects of their final product. Honeymoon is truly a unique experience and although it fails to fully stick its landing, it’s still more than worth recommending to anyone looking to see something fresh in a sea of mediocrity. As a big sucker for films that proficiently establish ominous tones I am in awe of Janiak’s first feature outing and implore others who also prioritize tone over complete stability to check this film out – it’s more than worth your time.
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