Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Honeymoon (2014)

Newlyweds Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) are going on their honeymoon in the cabin in the woods of her family in Canady. Usually, you wouldn’t call the place isolated but outside the main season as the couple is going they might as well be in the real middle of nowhere.

Things start out well enough, but soon, a curious encounter with Bea’s local childhood love Will (Ben Huber) and his wife Annie (Hanna Brown) that might suggest anything from an abusive man to mental illness disturbs the happiness and the sex. The very next night, Bea disappears from the bedroom, and Paul finds her naked and in shock just standing in the woods.

Bea says she was just sleepwalking but Paul is increasingly disturbed by changes in her behaviour, peculiar holes in her memory, and a feeling of distance where once there was intense closeness. Paul isn’t exactly calmed by the fact Bea seems to have strange markings on her upper thighs she makes out to be insect bites nor by the way she very suddenly doesn’t want to have sex with him anymore. To say Paul reacts badly to the situation would be putting it mildly but then the situation will turn out to be one to which there isn’t any sane or healthy reaction in the handbook.

Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon is quite an outstanding film, starting out with the so traditional it can induce eye-rolling set-up of two young pretty people in the proverbial cabin in the woods threatened by something mysterious but going into directions with it that are often as unexpected as they are clever.

There are a number of things Janiak does particularly well here. For most of the film’s running time, there’s a real sense of intimacy to the movie, an emphasis on this being a picture that gets as close as it possible can to its two protagonists who share an intimacy of their own that might even be too close, and that is then threatened by the strange thing actually going on I don’t want to spoil. There is, of course, an obvious metaphorical level to what happens, the film making a complex comment on togetherness and division in traditional couple structures, about intimacy and its borders. The threat our protagonists encounter is quite subtly and cleverly applied to make this comment. So cleverly applied, in fact, I don’t think you need to see understand this level of the film to enjoy it at all.

Because if you just ignore that level of meaning, you still have a fantastic and tense horror film that puts some very old ideas to new and subtle use, using various things I still don’t want to spoil from a perspective that makes them new and exciting again. Well, or new and disturbing, really, for the way into doom for Bea and Paul is quite painful to watch, seeing as it doesn’t hit your typical horror movie clichés but people so well-written, I don’t even know the jobs they have when they are not on honeymoon and still have the sort of sympathy for them you have for people more than for characters.

It’s quite painful to watch Paul’s and Bea’s deterioration, for – at least – two reasons: one, there’s really nothing at all insinuated about these two being punished for any transgressions, unless it’s for being genuinely happy; two, the performances of Leslie and Treadaway are excellent, selling the point when both of their characters act nothing at all like sane people anymore as well as they do the sweetness and light at the beginning – and in both cases, without overselling any of it.

Janiak’s direction is pretty fantastic too, eschewing all your standard “look I’m directing!” tricks, instead making a film that feels as focused and determined as it feels intimate, presenting even the slightly more outrageous final scenes of the film with a calm that gives them a true emotional effect. This subtle yet never squeamish approach to horror reminded me of the stories of Dennis Etchison more than of many other films, and is particularly beautiful to watch right now, when more films than not concentrate on jump scares, jump scares, and more jump scares.

I am really very excited about Janiak’s film, and I’m just as excited to see whatever she’ll do next.

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