Horror is a tough genre to tackle when trying to make a film seem new and fresh. Aside from wading through a quagmire of tropes, horror creators have to make something scary, which isn’t easy when every viewer will have a different idea of what that means. Every once and a while, even the most seasoned horror buffs happen upon a film that is surprising and genuinely frightening.
Unfortunately, Honeymoon is not one of those.
The movie concerns newlyweds Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) spending their honeymoon at her family’s cottage. This Canadian appreciated the setting and depiction of cottage life, but wonders if a blissful, quiet honeymoon might have made a better film. After a night or two, Bea wanders into the woods alone for reasons she can’t explain. After that night she begins to act differently, leaving Paul to wonder what caused the sudden change.
Leslie and Treadaway are capable actors (despite some slips in their “American” accents), and their giddy playfulness at the beginning contrasts with their increasing intensity as the film progresses. Treadaway’s manic paranoia is especially wonderful to watch, his giant eyes and frantic movements drawing the viewer into his fraying mental state.
The performances aren’t enough to save this mess though. The ultimate payoff is disappointing and the build-up to it dispels a lot of tension since it’s completely predictable. Paul’s first assumption is that Bea’s change has an entirely human cause, but that’s not convincing to the audience for even a second. Before the fateful night, we see mysterious bright lights shining in the cottage windows while the occupants sleep, and the lights seem especially focused on Bea. Even with extra-bright flashlights, it’s hard to imagine a normal human wandering around their cottage and shining a light in their windows without waking anyone up. Besides, did you see that poster? Given how much of the film is from Paul’s perspective – we try to figure out what’s happened as he does – it’s difficult to find any tension in his investigating someone we know isn’t dangerous.
Director Leigh Janiak (who wrote the film with Phil Graziadei) isn’t lacking talent, and for a film debut she could have done worse. The film credits only 4 actors with speaking roles, and two of them take up less than 10 minutes of screentime together. Treadaway and Leslie are up to the task of anchoring the film, and such an intimate focus is prime territory for a horror film; the problem arises when a half-baked external threat enters the picture. The other characters and the mysterious lights distract from the central relationship. I imagined a film where Bea’s personality shift was due to illness or stress and Paul’s increasing paranoia stems from his own insecurity or lack of trust. Janiak and Graziadei had some great ideas (including a fantastically bleak ending), but the uninspired and unexplained threat waters down what could have been a tight film about a failing relationship.
Other than one scene of viscerally effective body horror, this film has little to offer as far as scares go. Rather than take a stab at something new, this film falls back on some pretty worn-out genre tropes, and what’s likely meant to service as a vague ending just feels unsatisfying and insufficiently explored. The lead actors are unquestionably talented, but you’re better off watching their recent TV work – Leslie plays Ygritte on Game of Thrones while Treadaway is Victor Frankenstein on Penny Dreadful – since both shows can ramp up much more tension than this film could.