United States. Directed by Leigh Janiak, 2014. Starring Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway. 87 minutes.
Honeymoon stars Rose Leslie (of Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Control) as Bea and Paul, a young newlywed couple honeymooning in a remote Canadian lakeside village where Bea apparently spent some time as a child. Weird shit starts happening almost immediately. It’s not long before Bea has an uncharacteristic sleepwalking episode and Paul finds her in the middle of the nearby woods, stark naked. After that, she behaves coldly and distantly, all the while insisting nothing’s wrong. What happened to Bea that night? What does it have to do with the strange lights that appear in the windows at night, and how is Bea’s apparently troubled childhood friend Will involved?
Director and co-writer Leigh Janiak’s goal seems to be to create a picture whose emphasis is on mood and atmosphere, not on wild effects or flamboyant jump-scares. That’s a laudable aim, and it works well in the film’s first act, which primarily sets up the mystery, and the final act, which contains the appropriately shocking reveals. It falls flat in the middle, however, largely due to a lack of incident. It’s probably a bit unfair to describe the central stretch of half an hour as Treadaway constantly screaming “WHAT HAPPENED IN THE WOODS???” and Leslie constantly screaming “NOTHING HAPPENED!!! YOU’RE CRAZY!!!” but, wow, it certainly felt like it. It also messes up the pacing something fierce; the film’s running time, less than an hour and a half, surprised me. It felt at least twenty minutes longer.
The problems with the second act don’t stop with the plotting. The story’s focus on Bea and Paul is so tight that the film effectively qualifies as a two-hander; there’s only two other characters–Will and his wife–neither of whom appear in more than a scene or two. Unfortunately, despite a prologue which info-dumps a buttload of exposition regarding the early days of the couple’s relationship, the two characters seem maddeningly generic and ill-defined. Janiak’s script knows where Bea grew up and what her favorite color is, but it doesn’t know much about the sort of woman she actually is. Which really hurts the film’s central themes.
Even so, this chunk of the film almost gets a pass on the strength of the chemistry between Leslie and Treadaway, which is the production’s secret weapon. They’re not a classic screen couple on the level of Bogart and Bergman or anything like that, but in terms of convincing the audience they’re really a young couple in love…yeah, it works well. It would work better if the pair, who are both British, could maintain consistent accents. At the beginning, Paul’s accent seems Bostonian and Bea’s, Southern (even though both characters are ostensibly from Brooklyn) but over the course of the film they both seem to give up and resort to generic fake American.
The other aspects of the picture work quite well. Janiak’s direction is quiet and understated, her use of SFX spare and, well, effective. She knows how to stretch a dollar: the short cast list and limited number of locations are the only signs of a low budget. Heather McIntosh’s unnerving, dissonant score. The action leading up to the climax is quite disturbing and unsettling, and will stay with me for quite some time afterward.
Honeymoon is kind of like the Little Horror Movie that Could. Well…maybe it’s more like the Little Horror Movie that Tried. It works so damned hard to turn its limitations into benefits that you can’t help admiring it in spite of its flaws. It has spirit.