What a great surprise this film turned out to be!! HONEYMOON started off like so many films before it with a standard setup and (seemingly) standard story. But director Leigh Janiak, who co-wrote the story with Phil Graziadei, took the film in a different direction. Between keeping the viewer on their toes and filling the story with tension, mystery, and heavy doses of dread, HONEYMOON turned out to be a fantastic surprise.
As the film opened, we see the wedding video of Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway), who were married just hours before. We watched as each one talks about their love for each other and recall different stories about their relationship like how they met, how he proposed, their first date, etc. I admit that I jumped to an early conclusion that HONEYMOON was going to be just another found footage flick, but luckily the opening was the only time this film used this gimmick. I don’t know if this was director Janiak having a little fun at the expense of the the viewer, but I was just glad HONEYMOON switched to a traditional narrative film after the opening (I was not in the mood to see a found footage flick).
Bea and Paul decided to spend their honeymoon at a semi-isolated cabin that Bea used to spend summers at with her family when she was younger. They ended up being isolated and had the lake all to themselves because their honeymoon was before the summer vacationers got there. For the first fifteen to twenty minutes, the focus of the movie was on their relationship. Some may find the beginning slow and plodding, but I though this was a beautiful setup as director Janiak gave us time to get to know and care about the characters. Bea and Paul felt real and they had great chemistry onscreen. For a second there it was easy to forget that I was watching a horror film and not a romantic-drama.
Anywho… Almost immediately, strange things begin to happen. The first thing the viewer encounters is a strange beam of light that glares through the window and bathes Bea in its light. The first night this happened, neither Bea nor Paul were any the wiser. One morning Paul decided he was going get up at the ass-crack of dawn and go fishing. His alarm goes off, he got dressed, kissed Bea, and headed outside. He noticed how dark it still was outside and checked his phone’s clock to see that it was still three in the morning. He wrote it off as a failure of his nightstand clock, but when he went back to bed, Bea was gone. He searched the house, calling her name, but she was nowhere to be found. He ran outside and into the woods and found her dazed, standing in the woods barefoot. He brings her back inside but she assures him she is fine and she just did some harmless sleepwalking (which Paul is quick to point out she’s never done before). They go back to bed and sleep until morning.
That’s when shit starts to get weird. Bea has changed, but her oddness starts out subtle and with small things. At first it was little things like forgetting how to make coffee and French toast, but as more time passed, Paul realized there was something seriously wrong with her. She has an odd bite marks on the inside of her thigh, and as more time passed, she seems to be forgetting more and more details of her life and of her life with Paul.
The build up in HONEYMOON was brilliant. Everything pointed to aliens as the culprits. There were the bright lights in the middle of the night, the apparent missing time, and based on her behaviour, you can’t help but think she was abducted and replaced with a replica. No huge spoilers here, but I will tell you that it was not aliens. It was something so much more mysterious, disturbing, and creepy. One night Bea and Paul run into one of her old boyfriends from when she was younger, Will (Ben Huber), and his wife Annie (Hanna Brown). Will seemed on edge and was very tense. When Annie walked outside they noticed how terrible she looked and how oddly she acted. They left feeling odd about the entire experience, but after Bea’s experience in the woods, Paul realized that Annie must have gone through the same exact thing.
Ninety-eight percent of this film is just Bea and Paul onscreen, and if it wasn’t for their acting, this entire film would have been a dud. They were so good in their roles, and Bea did a really nice job playing a victim who was trying to hold onto her humanity. Early in the film I thought Rose Leslie’s acting was terrible. It looked forced and she even looked uncomfortable onscreen. As her role evolved, I realized she played her early character like that in order to show what kind of change she went through. It was a little hit and miss early on with her acting, but once she comes back from the woods changed, Leslie’s acting really shines. She does a great job conveying so many conflicting emotions. Really well done. And Treadaway, who plays Paul, also does a superb job in his role as a guy whose wife literally changes overnight. We watch as Paul battles with his emotions as well and questions his very sanity.
Director Janiak does a great job with the story and never lets the plot get away from her. The fact that we got a female director really added a whole other dimension to the film. When it comes down to it, this is Bea’s story, and it was nice to have a female director and co-writer that wasn’t afraid to delve into that aspect of the film.
HONEYMOON was a great surprise from a first time director, and I see nothing but great things in her future. I hope she stays in the horror genre because she’s a natural for setting up and brilliantly executing tension, mystery, and suspense. There’s no jump scares here, but you’ll have this feeling of dread the entire length of the film. If you’re looking for every plot point to be neatly explained and presented with a bow on top by the end of the film, you’ll be disappointed. HONEYMOON has a 5.6 rating on IMDb, and I’d bet it lost points for not thoroughly explaining everything. I thought it was done beautifully. Again, no major spoils, but there was a Lovecraftian element to it, and like many of Lovecraft’s stories, not everything is always explained. There is definitely closure in the story, but it may not be as completely explained as some viewers want.
Don’t miss HONEYMOON. Great acting, great directing and writing, and an ending that will stay with you for a long time make this film a “must see.” I really enjoyed this one!!
Director: Leigh Janiak (& co-writer with Phil Graziadei)
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer