★★★ / ★★★★
“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.
Letters to Juliet (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Aspiring writer and current fact checker Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her chef fiancé (Gael García Bernal) went to Italy for their pre-honeymoon. Sophie thought that the two of them would have a great time and set aside their work for a couple of days, but her soon-to-be-husband seemed like he was more excited about the opening of his restaurant than the prospect of marriage and settling down. This led Sophie to go sightseeing on her own and she eventually found a fifty-year-old letter that was unanswered by Juliet, a person who made it her legacy to answer letters written by many people from different cultures who visited Verona’s courtyard. Even though I found the picture to be completely predictable, I ended up really enjoying it mainly because of Seyfried. I find that every time I watch her, I feel a certain warmth and charm that she radiates without even trying. With somewhat of a slow start, the story started to pick up when Sophie finally met the owner (the elegant Vanessa Redgrave) of the one letter she answered along with her disapproving grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan). Since the owner wanted to find her long lost lover named Lorenzo, the three went on a road trip which wasn’t always fun. In fact, it was full of disappointments because with each incorrect Lorenzo they found, I felt the grandmother’s hope to considerably diminish. I thought the best part of the film was the road trip because the three had a commonality. That is, they knew how it was like to lose someone important to them and that was often at the forefront. On top of that, Sophie and the sarcastic and somewhat uptight grandson began to feel a little spark for each other so then they had to deal with that tension even though they initially didn’t want to. However, I wished the last fifteen minutes hadn’t dropped the ball. I thought the reunion could have been handled with more intelligence (maybe even a spice of boldness) and not result to the whole will-she-or-won’t-she formula because we knew what would eventually happen. “Letters to Juliet,” directed by Gary Winick, without a doubt, is syrupy and has a highly idealistic vision of romance. Sometimes it made me roll my eyes because I kept thinking of obvious questions like the grandmother not changing her place of residence for the last fifty years or why did all of the women in the film believed in “true love.” However, most of the time, I was just happy watching it because the storytelling felt effortless and it made me wish for a moment that true love really existed.
★★★ / ★★★★
“Jellyfish,” directed by Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret, peeks into the lives of three women in Israel: Batiya (Sarah Adler) who one day meets a little girl on the beach and wakes her up from the seemingly meaninglessness life she’s living; Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a Filipina who takes care of older people whose children do not have time for them and at the same time feels a lot of guilt for leaving her son to earn money from another country; and Keren (Noa Knoller), a recent bride who breaks her ankle on her wedding night and fears that her husband is cheating on him during their honeymoon. This is definitely not everyone’s kind of movie because it doesn’t have a traditional way of storytelling: a defined exposition, rising action and climax. The camera simply drops in and out of the three women’s lives yet at the same time it strives to find a commonality among them. The idea of loneliness and fear is at the forefront but one can also argue that this film is ultimately about hope and strength to keep on living. And that’s what I love about it: it’s very open to interpretations because it’s full of symbolism and elements that may or may not be real. Even though the three women’s paths do collide at some point, it doesn’t feel forced like many American movies where one circumstance changes everybody’s lives by the end of the movie. In my opinion, “Jellyfish” is the perfect title for this film because its way of telling the story and structuring of the characters is mostly dependent upon the movements on the ocean, which means it’s organic and natural. However, I do think that some of the subtitles weren’t accurate enough. I can understand Tagalog and there’s a certain disconnect between what the character is saying and what’s written at the bottom of the screen. However, most foreign films have that problem so I’m not going to heavily hold that issue against this picture. If one is up for watching something a little different, “Jellyfish” is a recommendation because of its inherent poetry and sadness.