★★★ / ★★★★
“Honeymoon,” written by Phil Graziadei and Leigh Janiak, is horror-thriller that creeps rather than terrifies, but it is an effective piece of work because it is patient, increasingly strange, and is spearheaded by two lead performers with exciting chemistry.
The setup sounds awfully familiar: a recently married couple rents a lakeside cottage in a rather secluded area and things go horribly awry. The first twenty minutes is underwhelming. Sugary-sweet scenes where Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) express their happiness for having been married are abound. Each of these scenes are punctuated by almost laughable PG-13-level love scenes.
Eventually, however, the material aspires to be more than that. I found myself so engaged, I began to come up with scientific explanations as to why Bea, after a sleepwalking incident, starts to exhibit increasingly bizarre behaviors like making seemingly harmless errors with common language.
For instance, at one point, she claims to want to “take a sleep” instead of “take a nap.” In another incident, it appears as though she has completely forgotten how to make coffee or any breakfast item. My hypotheses ranged from a classic physical and sexual trauma, then onto specific brain injuries (aphasias), to bacterial or viral exposure out there in the woods.
Treadaway and Leslie make convincing newlyweds. They seem into each other and they are attractive together. And so when Paul becomes convinced that Bea needs serious help, a natural tension builds. I enjoyed—and the script makes a point—that Paul is not an alpha male. Instead, he is intelligent, curious, and sensitive even when it comes to a slight disequilibrium in the relationship. Because Paul is not a stock or standard macho character who carelessly chases rustling in the woods and yells, “Who’s there?!”, we relate to him that much more. Treadaway ensures that we feel his character’s fear in just about every decision. We understand that Paul is pushed into action because of his love for his wife.
In a lot of ways, “Honeymoon,” under Leigh Janice’s direction, is a minimalist horror film. The creepiness and tension is mostly derived from the performances supported by a solid script. Sudden pauses between lines can be alarming. Light and lighting are played with instead of employing CGI. When a creepy thing appears, it horrifies because it is real—it has real texture, real color, real appearance. There is little to no score when a character makes brisk action—which works because there is no guide that allows us to anticipate a reaction. It is the kind of film that is best approached knowing next to nothing about it.
Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Brothers Andy (Harry Treadaway) and Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) decide to rob a bank in order to prevent their grandfather (Alan Ford) from losing his retirement home. The big day happens to coincide with two construction workers unearthing a tomb. Inside houses hundreds of skulls. One of the skeletons moves and a takes a bite out of the men. Soon, the East End of London is teeming with the infected and Andy, Terry, and their mates must fight for their lives.
“Cockneys vs Zombies,” directed by Matthias Hoene, is not the second coming of “Shaun of the Dead” despite the two having about a half a dozen similarities. What the former lacks is an infectious verve, a feeling that it might be fun or exciting to wake up one day and discover that the dead can come back to life. The amusing lines are in the script but not the sense of adventure in order for it to stand above the rest.
At times the picture is very funny. I enjoyed that the characters have seen zombie movies and so they know precisely what to do when encountering the undead. But there are also jokes outside of the self-awareness. A standout scene involves the robbers walking into the bank dressed up as construction workers. However, the irony in the situation does not last for long. One of the characters is too trigger-happy but far from interesting. I could not wait for him to get bitten.
Part of the problem is we are never given a chance to believe that the characters are in danger. First, there is far too many of them for too long. The camera moves around consistently and so the tension fails to build. The zombies are slower and weaker than usual. I suppose that aspect is redeemed a little bit by a race between a zombie and an older person on a walker. Still, that is one wink out of the many painfully standard chases.
Someone should have told the screenwriters, James Moran and Lucas Roche, that it is a no-no to give characters in a survival picture unlimited supply of guns. Since everyone has a weapon, it comes down to pointing and shooting. It looks like just about everybody is a great shot. Aside from certain frames shot in slow motion, the filmmakers fail to command the material when bullets fly. In fact, the whole thing turns into a bore.
The film had a chance to make a statement and I was at a loss on why it did not. There is a recurring theme about the working class getting the short end of the stick, from the construction workers who stumble upon the underground graveyard to the brothers who mean well but often get into trouble. It is very disappointing that the writers actually made the decision to vacuum out the flavor from a horror-comedy with something to say about the working class and what it means for them to fight and survive.
Fish Tank (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
When Joanne (Kierston Wareing) brought home Connor (Michael Fassbender), a new boyfriend, Mia (Katie Jarvis), a troubled fifteen-year-old, was immediately infatuated with him, and he with her. The two tried not to act on their desires for obvious reasons but how long could they resist when the small apartment required them to be constantly within reach? Written and directed by Andrea Arnold, “Fish Tank” was a coming-of-age film with a keen eye on characterization and telling truths that might be difficult to sit on. Specifically, how unpredictable a teenage mind could be and the lengths it would go to get its desires. Mia was tough, unafraid to stand her ground against a group of girls but, like most teenagers, she was lonely. Even when she was at home, she found no peace of mind. Joanne saw Mia’s youth as both threatening and a reminder that she was no longer the young party girl she once was. Due to Joanne’s lack of effective parenting, it seemed like Mia’s sister, Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths), was well on her way to becoming a troubled teenager as well. Barely ten years of age, she smoked and drank with her friends. Her role models were the scantily-clothed women on television. I found it interesting that when Joanne and Mia occupied the same room, it was always one person facing another’s back and they avoided to make eye contact. They lived in the same apartment and shared the same bloodline but they were essentially roommates who didn’t get along. But the director avoided to judge the way these people lived. Like quietly staring in a fish tank, we just observed them and the way they reacted to the rhythms of every day. I admired the fact the film’s focus wasn’t about whether it was right or wrong for Mia and Connor to engage in sexual activity. What mattered what how Mia felt around him. She was happy and flattered that someone took a genuine interest in her talent for dancing. He was a father figure that she didn’t really know, or wasn’t willing to accept, she needed. Fassbender gave his character depth. Instead of portraying a creepy predator, he was a friend. The complexity of their relationship was what kept me wanting to know what would happen next. The film took pride in delivering the unpredictable. When Mia made friends with a boy (Harry Treadaway) interested in car mechanics, it was easy to assume that she would use him to make Connor jealous. That wasn’t the case. “Fish Tank” could easily have been about an angry girl who lived in a poor neighborhood and how she eventually willed herself to escape her horrid upbringing. There was none of the usual life lessons about overcoming poverty. I felt the director’s utmost respect for her subjects by allowing them to be their imperfect selves up until the very end. Best of all, Arnold’s direction successfully led us to an invisible part of Britain and made it more visible.
City of Ember (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
This is the kind of film that would’ve benefited if it had a longer running time and a bit less family-friendly so it could explore its darker undertones. Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway star as Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, respectively, who try to find a way out of Ember, a city illuminated by artificial light. After two hundred years, the generator was beginning to fail so the two must find a way out or everyone in Ember will perish in darkness. Although the premise sounds adventurous, I don’t think Jeanne Duprau’s book was fully realized on screen. I felt like Gil Kenan, the director, held back a lot of the time in order for younger kids to enjoy the film as much as the adults. As a result, we get a motion that looks grimy, menacing and depressing but when one takes a look at the big picture, it’s ultimately safe and empty. Although I did like the partnership between Ronan and Treadaway, it’s hard for me to like the movie as a whole because it doesn’t have much heart since it’s afraid to take risks when it comes to tackling certain emotions. Even the presence of Bill Murray (as the corrupt mayor) and Tim Robbins (as Doon’s father) did not make up for the movie’s shortcomings. I felt like there were a lot of details in the book about these two characters that didn’t quite make it or translate on film. With a longer running time, I felt like the two characters would’ve been established stronger, such as their motivations and their roles when it comes to knowing (or not knowing) information about Ember. Overall, this is a disjointed fantasy adventure that could’ve been so much better if more details were incorporated from the book. This is a prime example of a money-driven movie studio having more influence in the project than people (such as the book’s author) who actually care about the story being accurately executed from the primary source.