★★★ / ★★★★
“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.