Immediately before I got married, I was told the same thing by a number of married friends. Marriage would change everything; I wouldn’t really know my partner until we were married and then I’d see what they meant. I’m not married now, and the short story is that they were right. The deteriorating relationship at the heart of Honeymoon reminded me of this advice.
The film is a small scale sci-fi thriller that places Harry Treadaway (Attack the Block) and Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) as newlyweds Paul and Bea at a remote cabin for a slightly delayed honeymoon. The young, attractive couple spend most of their days in sleep clothes, making out or making breakfast, and being as lovey-dovey as people get when they’re high off the presence of the one they adore. Paul calls her “Honey Bea” and she returns the pet name with a buzzing bee noise and they kiss and grope some more. It’s all pretty sweet, up until the day that it isn’t.
A droning hum and a rotating white light through their bedroom window while they sleep tip that this may be an alien-abduction story, and though there are plenty of films that have tread this ground, Honeymoon’s early intimacy gives this story a lot of its strength. When Bea starts blanking out like an amnesiac, unable to answer even the simplest questions from Paul, it really does feel like this couple’s days are numbered. We’ve watched them be so embarrassingly in love, there’s creeping horror in seeing that high go away as Paul looks at Bea like he doesn’t even know her. The tension is all earned.
It’s good that the emotional hook is so strong, because the mystery isn’t quite as involving. There are early conversations about hollowed-out decoy ducks decorating the cabin that provide some obvious foreshadowing, and watching Paul lose his mind looking for the reason his wife isn’t behaving like his wife can be pretty frustrating when the audience already has a good idea of what that answer is. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t without its own surprises, but there are way more bits with Paul asking Bea the same questions over and over than there are bits that pay off on those questions.
Treadaway isn’t given as rich of a character to play as Leslie, but he gives good freakout. Leslie gets the showier role, for obvious reasons, but even before things get weird, we know more about who Bea is and what makes her tick than we do Paul. Her character’s definition is most likely deliberate, since the audience needs to have the same feelings that Paul has when Bea begin to change. We need to feel that Bea just isn’t the same person as the one who married Paul. They carry the whole film, though Ben Huber and Hanna Brown pop up quickly as a married couple going through their own problems.
This is Leigh Janiak’s first film, from a screenplay by herself and Phil Graziadei and the script is tailor-made to use their limited resources for maximum eerie effect. Honeymoon is more than just a great promise of things to come from Janiak; it’s got more meat to it than similar wide release flicks like The Fourth Kind or Dark Skies. She gets in close with the actors, letting them build the suspense through their shifting relationship, and delivers real unease despite a well-tread plot.
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