This is a repost of Matt Donato’s review from the South by Southwest Film Festival. Honeymoon is now available in theaters, on VOD and on iTunes.
If single people ever needed another reason to avoid the dreaded serious relationship status, they should watch Leigh Janiak’s marital horror flick Honeymoon. Seriously, relationships are hard enough as is – do we really need another terrifying love story that includes some type of malevolent force wedging itself between two soul mates? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO FIND LOVE WHEN SO MANY EVIL BEINGS WANT NOTHING MORE THAN TO DESTROY LIFE’S MOST WONDERFUL EMOTION?! Oops, sorry about that, got a little sidetracked, but there’s something uniquely disturbing about romantic horror films, as there’s something so disheartening about stripping such pure innocence – when done right. Broken trust, hollow emotions, and backwoods body snatching – who honeymoons in the Canadian wilderness anyway? Our couple was pretty much asking for it.
The story couldn’t be any simpler – Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) are newlyweds who find themselves honeymooning in a secluded, woodsy cabin. One night, while both lovers are fast asleep, a light shines in and spots Bea like a tractor beam – beckoning her outside. When Paul wakes up, he notices Bea is no longer by his side, and he finds her outside dirty, cold, and disheveled. From that day on, Paul starts to notice that Bea is acting extremely different. Forgetting major life events, acting hostile, making french toast without coating the bread – it becomes obvious that Bea is not herself. Eyeing strange markings on her upper thighs, Paul begins to suspect Bea wasn’t just sleepwalking the night he found her outside in a daze, but without any real clues, he can do nothing except question if his wife is actually the woman he agreed to love “’till death do us part.”
Slow-burn horror relies completely on the payoff – I don’t think that comes as a surprise, right? Honeymoon starts out bright, cheery, and full of charismatic playfulness between our two leads, but since we already know horror will inevitably kick in at some point, we’re basically just waiting. We’re waiting for that first dark night where Bea starts acting strange. We’re waiting for Paul to start snooping around pitch-black woods, shotgun in hand. We’re waiting for those strange bite marks to be uncovered, and inevitably we’re waiting for the genre moneyshot that awaits. Some movies end in a glorious climax, and others a flaccid whimper – with Honeymoon polishing off somewhere in between.
Leigh Janiak absolutely goes for broke when wrapping up Paul and Bea’s doomed getaway, but it’s not necessarily a completely satisfying finale. As not to describe an ending that will have woman squirming and reaching for their nether regions, the explanation for Bea’s increasingly deranged actions seems derivative of other genre films, begging for more expansion. Janiak opts for a speedy climax, keeping the spectacle short and icky, but with such a quaint (and curious) ending, the preceding hour or so feel weightless. Janiak’s film relies on the tonal comparison between our happy couple’s first night of sexual celebration and the looming danger, but as Bea undergoes an apparent transformation before our eyes, a necessary feeling of tension and terror seems lost in the dense foliage populating Honeymoon.
Actors Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie provide a couple so sickeningly in love that they call each other “honey bee” and make buzzing noises in nauseating PDA fashion – but even a grumpy critic like me can admit there’s a sweetness in their chemistry, and we’re presented two colorful lead characters capable of pushing Honeymoon forward. Only two other backwoods characters enter our story, and briefly I might add, so every moment rests heavily on Paul and Bea. Even though some quirkiness might be overplayed for entertainment value, Treadaway and Leslie are mostly likeable, finding ways to illuminate their love through cartoonish quacking and pet names – until Leslie enters a robotic, clueless mode that’s not horrifying, but instead just perplexing.
Keeping all of Janiak’s secrets under wraps, Honeymoon ends up being a moderately engaging thriller with alien abduction undertones, but the failure to establish true horror never conjures a single unnerved tickle in our deepest, darkest mindsets – although there will be some audible groans when Leigh’s gross-out takes form. For an indie horror film, Janiak does what she’s supposed to, and there are glimpses of strong filmmaking from our female auteur smattered throughout, but unfortunately there’s just not enough monumentally earth-shattering material here to get me overly excited. It’s a serviceable watch that I’m sure some horror fans will absolutely eat up, and it’s always wonderful to see another female horror filmmaker throwing her hat in the ring, but Honeymoon just wasn’t my dream vacation – will it be yours?
Honeymoon's payoff struggles to justify its means, but there are certainly moments that display filmmaker Leigh Janiak's cinematic prowess - which I hope to see again.