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Friday, 23 January 2015

Honeymoon – A deliciously disturbing slice of low-budget horror


Review

Honeymoon
Director: Leigh Janiak
Starring: Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway, Ben Huber
Running time: 87mins


Maybe I’m not seeing the right films or am simply old and jaded, but a lot of modern horror cinema leaves me cold. Endless found footage, constant attempts to make you jump instead of building tension, poor CGI, humdrum sequels to movies that weren’t that great in the first place, depraved violence and nudity in lieu of anything interesting to say. There are exceptions. In the last few years I’ve enjoyed The Babadook, Under the Skin, A Field in England, American Mary, and Excision – work that tried to do something a bit different or repurposed old ideas into interesting new shapes. I’m happy to add Leigh Janiak’s excellent and surprising Honeymoon to that list.

Rose Leslie (Ygritte, in Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (who I last saw in The Lone Ranger) are newly-weds Bea and Paul. For their honeymoon the pair head off to a cabin in the woods (more a posh lake house in a nicely-maintained forest really) and everything seems perfect as the goofy but likeable couple spend most of their time at it like rabbits. Then, one night, Bea goes missing, Paul eventually finding her naked and shivering amongst the trees. It soon becomes apparent something isn’t right – Bea suffers weird memory lapses, has livid red marks at the tops of her legs, and is suddenly very keen to keep her husband at arm’s length. Then there’s that peculiar white light shining into their bedroom every night…

Honeymoon is short and sharp, and like all the best horror films at its best when extrapolating and warping real human anxieties into something far darker. Janiak – a first time co-writer/director – finds fertile ground in the kind of jitters that afflict any newly-wed couple. Do I really know this person? Will marriage ruin our relationship? How soon will the sex dry up? How do I measure up to his/her previous lovers? How much of “me” will survive this new thing called
“us”?

In many ways this is a masterclass in low-budget horror filmmaking; let strong characters and smart direction do the heavy lifting, before hitting your audience with a jaw-dropping bit of visual nastiness made all the more powerful by its sparing use. The old “less is more” adage proved perfectly correct yet again.

Janiak slowly but expertly turns up the unease and paranoia to boiling point with lots of close-ups and tight angles, emphasising again and again that this is as much about Bea and Paul’s relationship as it is about the external threat they face. There’s body horror, heartbreak and madness as the plot gives up its secrets (well, some of them) leading to a memorable and utterly chilling denouement.

Both leads are excellent, especially Rose Leslie. In Game of Thrones she was required to do little beyond taking off her clothes and uttering “You know nothing, Jon Snow” at regular intervals, but she’s much better served here in a role that requires genuine versatility. Leslie is perfect and lovely as pre-incident Bea, giddily in love with her new hubby and high on life. But she’s even better later on; confused, frightened, a stranger to herself as she battles to hang onto her humanity. It’s an extremely effective performance, maybe even up there with Essie Davis’ celebrated turn in The Babadook.

Honeymoon shares DNA with several movies that I like very much, including Under the Skin and Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but never feels indebted to them. Janiak’s film only enjoyed a limited UK cinema release back in September but I’m hoping will find a much bigger audience now. It thoroughly deserves to.

Rating: WWWW

Honeymoon is available now on VOD, and from Monday (January 26) on Blu-ray and DVD

Ratings

WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthy
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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