Sometimes we miss the point of horror. We forget that we can find the most terrifying moments in the simplest premises. Certainly this is the case with Honeymoon, the 2014 feature by first-time director Leigh Janiak. One might yawn at the familiarity of its scenario, but to do so would be to dismiss an elegant, terrifying tale about how little we know about the people we love, and how powerless we are when their mask slips.
Newlyweds Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) arrive at a secluded cabin for their honeymoon. They go to a small restaurant where the owner Will (Ben Huber) asks them to leave before Will realizes that he is Bea’s childhood friend. Will’s wife joins them, and tells Bea and Paul that they need to leave. Shortly after this encounter, Bea leaves the cabin in the middle of the night. Paul finds her naked and disoriented in the woods. She claims she was sleepwalking. “Stress,” she explains.
Their honeymoon continues, but Bea’s behavior becomes even more strange.
Honeymoon unsettles from the opening frames. Home movies of Bea’s and Paul’s wedding show a joy muted by...something. The story of their first date and Paul’s proposal ought to be a typical Meet Cute, but from the beginning what appears to be romantic feels uncanny and off. As the movie progresses, events unnerve Paul. Bea turns emotionally distant, and Paul initially blames their meeting with Will before realizing that some other factor is at play. One night, Paul awakens to bright lights shining through the cabin’s bedroom windows but sees nothing when he investigates. Bea behaves more erratically, and Paul notices marks on her inner thigh. “Mosquito bites,” she tells him.
To say more would give away Honeymoon’s remarkable gems. Janiak generates good suspense from the screenplay (co-written with Phil Graziadei) and through impressive sound design. It builds slowly, with events that suggest one thing but diverge when when we think we know where the movie is going. Good too is Janiak’s use of atmosphere; shadows creep from the Canadian woods surrounding the cabin, filling the idyllic location with foreboding. The cabin itself invites at first glance before folding over its inhabitants.
Character-driven movies fail without strong casting. Fortunately, the leads stand out. Treadaway and Leslie work well together, evoking intimacy and love that turns to dread, anxiety, and terror in an all-too-believable manner. It helps, too, that Honeymoon maintains its focus on Paul’s point of view. We learn things as he does, which deepens the mystery.
I do wish Janiak and Graziadei provided a more satisfying ending. It makes sense within the logic of the story, and it arrests in its final shots, but it also leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. Perhaps the questions are the point. Who is the person you love, really? Do you know them? Are you sure?
Derek Austin Johnson has lived most of his life in the Lone Star State. His work has appeared in The Horror Zine, Rayguns Over Texas!, Horror U.S.A.: Texas, Campfire Macabre, The Dread Machine, and Generation X-ed.
He lives in Central Texas.