Discovering Each Other


Honeymoon - 2014
Written by Phil Graziadei & Leigh Janiak
Directed by Leigh Janiak

It has been my contention in the past that the core of fear is the unknown, and thus that the scariest scary movies are those that leverage that fear.  As such, I tend to prefer ghost stories and hauntings, especially if they have an element of psychological uncertainty when it comes to horror movies, because they play with the mysteries in the darkness.  I also like the slow burn horror, the builders of fear and dread without overly explicit revelations.  Based on these premises, Honeymoon was one of the more impactful horror movies I've seen in quite a while.

Bea and Paul are newlyweds who enjoy shedding the expectations of convention.  Through their wedding video, we learn that they served Indian food at their wedding because their first date involved a disastrous experience at an Indian restaurant.  For their honeymoon, they're passing on the ordinary tropical vacation and hanging out at Bea's family lake cabin.  Sure, there's nothing non-conventional about a horror movie taking place at a lake cabin, but the newlywed twist both gives the film an angle, as well as setting up a thematic exploration of what it's like for a new couple to discover each other anew in their new context, anxieties and all.

The first act takes its sweet time, much like the couple.  They are simply a young couple in love enjoying being together with no more conflict than a "What do you mean by that?" moment.  It is, at this point, relevant to mention that the film is carried ably by its leads, Rose Leslie and Harry Treadway, one or both of whom occupy every scene.  Tension is first aroused when, on a trip into town, they encounter Will, an old summertime crush of Bea's, and his wife Annie.  Something is clearly not right between Will and Annie, and Annie vaguely and ineffectually warns them to leave.

Paul's petty jealousy is piqued when, that night, Bea suddenly disappears from their bed and he finds her sleepwalking naked in the woods.  From that point on, tension grows between them as her behavior becomes increasingly strange, and through his suspicion, so does his.  Or, possibly, his behavior becomes strange due to suspicion and hers becomes strange as a defensive reaction.  This tension is allowed to fester and gnaw at them while other unusual occurrences pop up.  Then again, maybe they only seem unusual because of the mistrust growing between them.

Fear of the unknown.  Fear of losing a loved one. Fear of losing one's own mind.  These form a creeping sense of dread that grows and dominates Bea and Paul's time together.  When things take a turn for the sincerely effed-up in Act 3, it's an emotional punch as well as a palpable experience of disgust.  It's simply and economically managed, but delivering a genuine sense of horror not soon to be forgotten.

The final reveal is never totally explicit.  There are enough clues to suggest tropes of a certain type of villainy (yes, I am desperately trying not to say what), but with enough explanation, it could potentially change the nature of the beast in question several other ways.  The film doesn't specifically say, which remains fairly faithful to the kind of story it's told up until then.  The horror remains nameless, because by the time you can name it, you're probably dead anyway.  If anything, they could have left out a few seconds of film and it would have remained even more faithful to the fear it nurtured all the way to the bitter end.

Honeymoon is going to frustrate horror fans looking for gore and jump scares, but for those who can appreciate a subtler approach to fear, it's a perfect match.

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