There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on within Leigh Janiak’s thriller Honeymoon, but almost none of it has to do with the actual scares being employed to goose the audience. It’s essentially a two-hander relationship drama that’s meant to mirror the fears people have upon solidifying a relationship that’s meant to last the remainder of one’s life. That gets this through for the most part, until a wonky, and somewhat sour final act derails things.
Bea (Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie) and Paul (Penny Dreadful’s Harry Treadaway) have just tied the knot and in a bid to save money for the future they’ve travelled to a Canadian cottage that’s been in her family for generations for the titular post-ceremony getaway. Things are great at first: they seem madly in love to, but to a not quite disgusting degree, and there’s a sense that this relationship could survive anything. That is until one night when Bea is coaxed out into the woods alone by some sort of supernatural or extraterrestrial force. When she returns, she’s still chipper, but addle brained, coming up with excuses not to do things, and bearing strange looking bite marks on her thigh. Paul suspects the worst (or that she’s having an affair with a married townie, glimpsed only briefly), but Bea refuses to leave and insists everything is fine.
Janiak’s work with co-writer Phil Graziadei makes the best of a slow-burning character study. It’s a deep fear that regret will follow soon after marriage, and the fears being talked about don’t necessarily need horrific embellishment. Paul fears that Bea is falling out of love with him rapidly and conversely she fears that he’s going to start resenting her soon. She refuses to acknowledge there are any problems, and she constantly deflects questioning the situation back onto him. He feels frustrated that he can’t help his wife, and somehow thinks deep down that he’s to blame for all of his problems, trying desperately to fix something he can’t change.
It’s imminently relatable subtext that carries the film and its leading performances very far without having to constantly resort to bringing up personal demons of those involved or longwinded expositional dumps. Leslie and Treadaway have outstanding chemistry together, making the audience feel equally frustrated and sympathetic towards their plight. Leslie in particular does a fine job of playing her changing character with a straight face and a sense of pragmatism. The shifts in Bea’s moods are subtle and believable, and that plays well against Treadaway’s understandably uptight routine.
It’s just a shame that the film couldn’t find a better way to reconcile the story. It’s not that the body horror filled and increasingly horror minded final third can’t work, but that it’s awkwardly integrated. There will come a point where the film will repetitively devolve into Paul just shouting at Bea to tell him what’s wrong for about twenty minutes and the film starts spinning its wheels and relying on style over substance.
The final explanation for Bea’s condition feels weak and obvious in the wake of the vastly more humane drama that came before it, and although it’s obvious from the first few scenes that the film won’t have a happy ending, Janiak does nothing to at least try and subvert viewer expectations. It’s a shame because it’s an interesting movie that falls apart when it has to try and wrap everything up. As a short with a killer punchline, this could have worked a lot better. As a feature, there’s quite a lot of sadly unnecessary filler.