Director: Leigh Janiak
Cast: Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway
Plot: Two newlyweds go to a family home for their honeymoon, only for the wife, Bea (Leslie) to have a fit of sleep-walking, returning home not quite herself.
We are getting really spoilt for horror at the moment. 2014 made me award The Babadook Film of the Year, which is something I never considered doing with a horror – hell, I was losing hope in the idea of giving a modern horror film five stars. However, now horror has grown into a genre where directors and writers are able to use it to be able to do interesting things. Honeymoon, like the Babadook, is a character piece that uses its own themes to create the horror and atmosphere, so while it is scaring the audience, it is also telling us a story.
It starts off as an adorable rom-com, spending the first ten minutes making us fall in love with the two leads. As the next paragraph will stress, it is important that we love the leads and two solid performances help that along. Bea and Paul are the perfect couple, funny, making love at the drop of the hat and enjoying every moment of each other’s company. Harry Treadaway easily steps into the perfect husband territory, very aware that most horrors are let down by the scumbag boyfriend figure. Rose Leslie smashes the American accent, capturing that sing-song cheerfulness that makes the American dialect one that is just fun to listen to, and this is coming from a guy who was worried he was going to miss hearing ‘You know nothing, John Snurr’, as he started up this film. Janiak’s direction is on-the-nose. There is something interesting about Honeymoon in the way it is scary, before we have quite realised what we are meant to be scared of. Strange noises, the background ambient noise of an isolated wood – Janiak never gives us anything to make us openly cower, yet the tension is still there. Part of that is Janiak using the fact that the audience knows it is watching a horror movie to ramp up the scares early, without ever showing her hand too soon. Another thing is the imagined fear helps make Janiak’s point much more effective. There is always a part of the audience that wonders if there is actually something watching them in the woods or if the drama that the couple go through are created by their own overactive imaginations.
Let’s discuss the clever creation of the marriage unit in Honeymoon. By about halfway through the movie, you realise just how clever Janiak’s writing is. As I said before, we are shown this movie through the eyes of the perfect couple. Half the audience will be rolling their eyes at the cheesy expressions and jokes these two make to each other. They seem strong together and, as Janiak wants you to feel, are the ideal married couple. However, the events of Honeymoon tear them apart. It starts off subtle and you can understand how Paul questions his wife’s sudden change of personality and motives. However, his suspicion grows and by the end of the movie, his character has completely crumbled around him (which is interesting, when you consider this with the twist at the end). He is needlessly angry, consumed by his paranoia and, when their relationship should be getting closer together to help them get through the horrors around them, they end up becoming their own worst enemy. Janiak never really needs to use her true ‘horror movie monster’ because the very concept of it is all that is needed to set the characters on this downwards spiral of terror. The horror movie soundtrack kicks in during the scary moments, but also when the couple are arguing over something trivial, which really interested me. This is not a movie totally hung up on grabbing as many jump scares as possible, but one that wants to question the identity of marriage and how that unit interacts when… and if you will excuse the lack of proper literary vernacular… the shit hits the fan.
Alas, this is where I become a rather complicated horror movie fan. Don’t get me wrong, I love this whole new sub-genre of horror. You have Honeymoon and Babadook delivering interesting masterpieces and using the horror genre to tell their stories in a way that any other genre couldn’t quite manage. Horror isn’t necessarily being improved, but is helping other genres improve, which is endlessly exciting for a horror movie fan. However, as Honeymoon hits its final act, I was beginning to miss the cheap thrills of watching something like Insidious or Paranormal Activity. I don’t want jump scares or monsters littered throughout my movie, but I feel that they need to play some part in the actual film, otherwise we end up with horror-lite. Honeymoon is horrifying yes, but atmosphere does that, meaning that we never really get a pulse-pounding scene of utter terror like the Babadook had. And the Babadook didn’t do that a lot – it used those moments sparingly, but that makes all the difference to me. Even if Honeymoon threw in the more expected side of the horror genre in the last ten minutes, I would have been praising this from the rooftops. As it stands, Honeymoon kind of fizzles out in the closing beats.
Final Verdict: Creepy, interesting and very well-made, but Honeymoon won’t be earning much praise from those wanting a true horror movie experience.