I remember looking at a poster for “Honeymoon” and thinking it would be just another needless insult to the horror genre. It has one of those stories that feature a couple spending a weekend away in a cabin out in the woods, and we all know what happens when young people hang out in cabins: people get possessed, drink way too much alcohol and eventually get murdered in a gruesome fashion (though not necessarily in that order). But it turns out I was wrong. “Honeymoon” proves to be one of the creepiest and most unsettling horror movies I have seen this year, and just when you think it will hit a false note, it doesn’t. It holds you in its grasp from start to finish and never lets you come up for air.
“Honeymoon” starts off with us viewing the pre-wedding video of Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie), and it’s the kind of video couples end up watching on their 10th anniversary. It also helps set up Paul and Bea as the perfect couple, and the chemistry between the actors is very strong to where we are eager to spend a lot of time with them.
For their honeymoon, these two lovebirds elect to spend it in a cabin on the lake. As is the case with horror movies, the weekend they pick to vacation at this cabin also happens to be when everybody else is out of town.
To be honest, the cabin they end up staying at is really beautiful. It’s not like those ratty old cabins we’ve seen in the “Evil Dead” movies, but instead the kind my parents always liked to take me and my bother to on family vacations. It has a docking station for a boat and all the amenities like a stove that any cabin requires. And, of course, it is located in an area of the United States which doesn’t get very good cell phone reception if any.
Paul and Bea are having the time of their lives when we first meet them, but things take a strange turn when Bea suddenly goes missing and Paul finds her out in the woods naked and disoriented. She has no idea of how she got there, and Paul takes her back to the cabin. From there, Bea begins to act very strangely and Paul starts to wonder if she is the same person he married. As her bizarre behavior escalates, strange things begin to happen like shafts of light invading the seemingly peaceful cabin and scissors being used in ways that are almost as painful as what we witnessed in Lars Von Trier’s “Antichrist.”
I kept waiting for “Honeymoon” to fall apart. The suspense keeps building and building throughout, and I feared that it would eventually mess things up by revealing too much. The fact that it doesn’t is a testament to director Leigh Janiak who keeps ratcheting up the tension just when you think it’s on the verge of disintegrating. According to her IMDB page, Janiak has worked mostly as an assistant to various movie producers, and “Honeymoon” marks her directorial debut. I honestly find this to be a very impressive debut as she avoids a lot of rookie mistakes many filmmakers tend to make their first time out. She also doesn’t rely on a lot of blood and gore (although there is a bit of that here and there) and instead lets the characters drive the movie while creating an atmosphere that makes you feel increasingly isolated from everything and everybody else.
I’m not familiar with Rose Leslie’s work as an actress, and I imagine that’s partly because I haven’t watched “Game of Thrones” which she has appeared on. On top of giving us a perfect American accent, she makes her character of Bea very down to earth to where we shudder as she endures things no human being should ever have to. She also has a very natural and appealing quality which makes us care even more about her horrific predicament. It’s a surprise to learn that this is one of Leslie’s very first movies as she shows a confidence in front of the camera that takes a long time to build up, and I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.
Tredaway, whom you might remember from the Showtime series “Penny Dreadful,” also turns in an equally strong performance as Paul. While a lot of actors in horror movies tend to emote more than act, you can tell that Tredaway isn’t faking a single emotion we see him experiencing onscreen. He drags us almost forcefully into Paul’s mindset as he desperately tries to help the love of his life, and he makes you feel his desperation as it becomes increasingly evident that time is running out for him to do so.
“Honeymoon” ends on an ambiguous note which may drive some audience members who want everything spelled out for them crazy, but it shows just how effective Janiak’s work as a director is. She keeps stringing us along and keeps us intrigued all the way through, and the movie’s final moment taps into our own dark and primal fears. There are no easy answers, only an inevitability that the characters try to resist.
Do yourselves a favor and skip the dreadful “No Good Deed,” a thriller that just lazily goes through the motions, and check out “Honeymoon” instead. Everyone involved in its production clearly had more on their mind than just giving you the same old thing.