My loyal readers may have noticed that I watch a lot of movies. I’ve watched 300+ feature films since the beginning of the year. And they’re all different genres, but one that I tend to stay away from is horror. It’s mostly because I’m a big baby when it comes to jump scares. You know jump scares – that part in the movie where the music is building and building until you know something is going to pop out. And then it does! And it’s usually just a cat or a reflection or something. Jump scares are the easiest type of scare that there is, and modern day horror films use them all the time. It’s a cop out. I look for those movies that actually scare me without cheap tricks. The new indie film Honeymoon has the potential to do just that.
Honeymoon – co-written and directed by Leigh Janiak – stars Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey) and Harry Treadaway (uhh- Penny Dreadful?) as Bea and Paul, a pair of newlyweds celebrating their honeymoon in Bea’s old family cabin. Things are going really well, until Bea disappears one night, only to be found naked and nearly catatonic in the middle of the woods by Paul. As the getaway continues, Bea begins acting strange, and Paul obsesses over the source of her odd behavior, convinced it has something to do with Will (Ben Huber, a.k.a. Creepy Bradley Cooper), a man from Bea’s past. Paul is consumed by the mystery as Bea is consumed in other ways (that’s more a fancy turn of phrase than it is a spoiler).
The movie works as a piece of horror, mostly due to a couple of really well-directed instances of tension that Janiak and her co-writer Phil Graziadei wisely refrain from undermining with jump scares. The only thing that slightly hurts these moments is Heather McIntosh’s score, which comes in hard in the second act and then overpowers throughout.
Even the music cannot ruin the lead performances. Treadaway in particular sells his character’s increasing frustration very well. In a more cerebral horror film I might find myself questioning Paul’s sanity. Hell, I still did, despite the fact that Honeymoon makes it perfectly clear that there really is something wrong with Bea. Both actors cover their native accents well (Leslie is Scottish, Treadaway is English), but Leslie does crack a few times throughout the film.
Together the two actors create a very believable relationship. The first twenty minutes or so are a convincing portrayal of a couple newly entered into marital bliss, down to the copious amounts of sex. At one point I made a note of all the sex, before remembering the couple was supposed to be on their honeymoon. I’m no prude, but you can convey the sensuality of such a situation without providing a graphic depiction of their shower activities.
But I suppose it adds to the tonal shift once Bea starts to act differently. The movie goes from the least funny and most overly sexualized romantic comedy I’ve seen, to an atmospheric meditation of “who did I marry?”-itis.
In the end, any good horror movie really earns it’s stripes on its ending. The only other horror movie I actually liked this year, Oculus, had a bit of a downer ending that kind of worked for the story that was being told. It is a satisfying-if-depressing conclusion for the characters involved. Honeymoon is not nearly as successful. All of Janiak’s good work begins to unravel as the answers to her mystery come to light. Everyone is disappointed, from the characters to the audience.
But you could do worse than Honeymoon (see: every other non-Oculus horror movie from this year). It is tense and effective, and not even a stumble at the finish line can negate that.