It’s often pretty interesting when a smart male filmmaker tells a horror story that’s about women. Directors like Eric England (Contracted), Paul Solet (Grace), or Lucky McKee (May, The Woman, etc.) But wouldn’t it be a cool switch to see a horror story about a man that was written and directed by a woman? I say hell yes it would.
Granted, Leigh Janiak’s debut, Honeymoon, isn’t strictly about a man; it’s actually about a newlywed couple who arrive at an old family cabin to enjoy a sweet, old-fashioned honeymoon together. But beyond that, Honeymoon is about a young woman who seems to change into a new person overnight – and the poor devoted husband who knows something is wrong, but has no idea how to figure it out.
The premise is simple and the presentation is admirably low-key, but it’s in the screenplay department (which Ms. Janiak wrote with Phil Graziadi) that Honeymoon really shines. Bea (Game of Thrones‘ Rose Leslie) and Paul (Penny Dreadful‘s Harry Treadaway) – and both actors are excellent – start out as a wonderfully happy newlywed couple, but the minute Paul starts to learn some new things about his bride’s past, well, he gets typically jealous. And then suspicious.
Also there are creepy noises in the woods, mysterious bouts of sleepwalking, and arguments between a couple we’ve quickly grown to like, which is an important distinction in a horror movie like this. Suffice to say that Bea is hiding something unpleasant, and that way you can enjoy the tension that Janiak keeps percolating until just the right moment. Once that second shoe drops (about an hour into the movie), an attentive viewer will be caught up in a strange yet accessible horror story that works because the filmmakers have allowed us some “quality time” with the characters. In some horror movies you wouldn’t need to bother; in a smart, literate, and (eventually) bizarre horror movie, yes, some actual human emotion goes a long way.
From a male perspective, Honeymoon is doubly interesting because it taps into those fears that men know all too well: Why does my new wife feel like a stranger? Did I do something wrong? Why won’t she tell me about that guy from her past? Will I make things even worse by asking? Damn, did I just make things worse by not asking? Nobody wants to find out that their new spouse has some shockingly weird skeletons in their closet, and Honeymoon does a great job of illustrating that point, as well as its counter-point: how far would you go to keep an unforgivable secret from someone you’re madly in love with? Basically, Honeymoon covers a lot of emotional and intellectual terrain for such an unassuming and modest indie horror film, and that’s only part of what makes it so impressive.
Scott Weinberg (@scott Eweinberg)
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