Sunday, September 22, 2019

Off Script: Honeymoon

Film: Honeymoon
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I’d like to see more women directing horror movies. There are a number of horror movies that have flown under the radar directed by women, and many of them are too good to have suffered from that sort of ambivalence from the audience. A woman director, at least in my experience, tends to make horror a lot more personal and internal. It may be that women are more attuned to a personalized horror, living (generally) in a society that often downgrades them and their contributions. I respond to that in horror. I’m of the opinion that horror tends to work best when we have a real connection with the characters. Honeymoon is that sort of a movie.

Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) are just married and, as the name of the film implies, going on their honeymoon. This will take place at a remote cabin that evidently belongs to Bea’s family. She knows the place well, after all, and the bear skin on the wall in one room was apparently supplied by her father. Bea and Paul seem very much like a happy couple, and like any recently married couple, the honeymoon is at least in part about enjoying each other away from the prying eyes of the rest of the world.

Everything seems relatively normal at first, although Bea seems a little odd after the first night. Eventually, the two wander down to a restaurant (called “Restaurant” like many a place in the middle of nowhere). The proprietor (Ben Huber) is aggressive at first until he recognizes Bea as a childhood friend. His wife (Hanna Brown) then appears, and appears to be the source of the proprietor’s agitation. Bea and Paul leave. Things continue to be strange when Paul wakes up to find Bea gone. He tracks her down outside and finds her naked in the woods with unexplainable marks on her body.

As the film continues, Bea becomes more and more strange, more and more distant from Paul. He catches her rehearsing things in the mirror, mostly about denying him sex. She also seems to be more and more detached from reality. She seems to have lost the basic recipe for French toast and can’t seem to make coffee anymore. She also appears to be losing pieces of who she is and her past with Paul. Where she determines that the lake is too cold for swimming one day, she dives in without a second thought a day or two later, not seeming to mind the cold.

I won’t go further in terms of the plot. In truth, this actually takes care of the first two acts of the film, because Honeymoon is very much a slow burn. Not a great deal happens for the first half hour or so, and things just get a little strange in the middle section of the film. In that respect it resembles a film like Starry Eyes quite a bit, because the slow burn is pretty effective in general.

There is a glaring issue with Honeymoon, and it’s entirely my problem and not the fault of the movie. It’s Rose Leslie, and I appear to be completely helpless in this respect. I simply can’t look at her without immediately thinking of Ygritte from Game of Thrones. It’s not her fault, and it’s worth saying that I have the exact same reaction to her GoT co-star and real-life fiancé Kit Harrington. Every time she opened her mouth, I expected her to say, “You know nothing, Paul.”

Honeymoon will bother people who don’t do well with slow-burn horror movies, because it does not move quickly. It takes patience to get to the point where things start to turn very strange, which happens right around the one-hour point. Slow burns are hard to do well, and when a movie is this short, it can be even harder to do.

What works here is a great deal. As I said at the top, horror tends to work for me when it becomes very personal and personalized, and Honeymoon is a very personal sort of horror. The horror that Bea undergoes is extremely personal, and what it appears to be related to becomes slowly evident as the film goes on. It is very much a woman’s film in this respect, and Bea’s situation is clearly foreshadowed in the first act, although it’s not clear in the moment. Looking back, though, it’s absolutely there.

Honeymoon was made on a $1 million budget, but made virtually nothing at the box office, grossing less than $10,000. That’s a damn shame, because director Leigh Janiak deserves to have a bigger budget and more space to get her ideas on screen. And I have hopes for this. She’s attached to the sequel for The Craft, and her husband is one of the creators of Stranger Things. So here’s hoping that she gets funding and backing she clearly merits.

It’s also worth noting that while this takes some time to ramp up, the final 20 minutes are very disturbing and dip into Cronenberg body horror territory, so the squeamish need not apply.

Why to watch Honeymoon: It’s disturbing in very real ways.
Why not to watch: It takes a long time to get going for such a short movie.

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