Does This New Indie-Horror Film Reinvent the Genre?
Director: LEIGH JANIAK/2014
Honeymoon is the debut film from Leigh Janiak, as well as her first writing credit (which she shares with Phil Graziadei). Despite its very slim budget, Honeymoon is able to compete with some of the larger franchises out there.
The story follows two newlyweds named Bea (Rose Leslie-Game of Thrones and Downtown Abbey) and Paul (Harry Treadaway-The Lone Ranger). Shortly after their wedding, they head to a remote lake cabin to enjoy their marital bliss until something unexplainable happens to Bea while she is sleepwalking. From this event on, things begin to spiral out of control as Paul seeks to find out why his wife is acting so out of character with no warning whatsoever. Does the two individuals that they meet in town have anything to do with it?
In various interviews with the director and cast, there have been a lot of influences cited for this film. Some of the mentioned films are very obvious to see throughout the movie. One of those mentions was Rosemary’s Baby. Roman Polanski’s 1968 film has a huge influence on Honeymoon, primarily in the way that it is grounded in everyday life for much of the film. As with Rosemary’s Baby, Leigh Janiak spends a good deal of time allowing you to get to know this couple in their everyday life. We see the way that Bea and Paul tell their story together, finishing each other’s sentences and filling in details that the other missed. We also see how they hang out, make breakfast, take a boat ride out on the lake, and how much humor they have together. When a film can get you to identify with the protagonists and empathize with them, then it is better able to set you up for the emotions of what is about to befall them. Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie help create this foundation beautifully.
As with Mia Farrow, Rose Leslie is the lynchpin that the film rides upon. It is her experiences in the woods while sleepwalking that take her from the happy, flirty, welcoming newlywed to something else entirely. This is a character that feels like a real person, and less like a Hollywood character made for the screen. But as effortless as Rose Leslie is able to make it, the true star is Harry Treadaway. In many ways, it is his experience that the audience will most likely identify with as he watches a series of events be put into play that he cannot control. His character arc requires even more transitions as he seeks to hold it together as his world spirals out of control invoking maddening emotions of anger, bewilderment, concern, sadness, and jealousy.
Another film influence the director has mentioned is The Shining. Once again, the connection ofHoneymoon to that one is the slow, methodical decent into madness. Honeymoon isn’t out to shock you or go for cheap scares. It wants to provide a slow burn that leads you to the explanation of the mystery and horror that this couple is experiencing. And like Jack Nicholson’s slow decent of “no work and no play”, Honeymoon follows The Shining‘s lead.
The final example would be the 1978 film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This comparison is appropriate in many ways especially as we witness the two main character’s reactions to what is happening to their lives, and how they begin to see each other following the strange event in the woods. While so many of today’s horror films revolve around ghosts and the demonic (The Conjuring,Deliver Us from Evil, The Quiet Ones, the upcoming Annabelle, or Paranormal Activity), this is more of a horror film in the classic sense. Fortunately it has bypassed the need for “found footage” and shaky cam gimmicks like As Above/So Below and Paranormal Activity to give us a simple steady cam focused on two characters for nearly the entire film. You may doubt me a bit when you see that the opening scene of the film is a videotaped moment from Bea and Paul’s wedding where they recount how they met, and a little bit about their non-cake at the nuptials, but thankfully, this is really the only “footage” angle of the film.
Honeymoon is not without its rookie mistakes. Nearly the entire plot of the film is revealed in the first 10 minutes of the film if you are listening closely. Many will miss it initially, but it is a giant neon sign despite the film’s attempt to keep you in the dark for as long as possible about what is taking place. The ending is also a bit of a letdown after a great build-up and such an intentionally slow and meticulous pacing by the director.
Honeymoon is simply a good horror film with a classic vibe that isn’t seeking to bring you shock and awe as much as keep you on edge and locked in the mystery. Leigh Janiak has done a very good job with her debut, and Harry Treadway and Rose Leslie are a strong couple with great chemistry that compliments Leigh Janiak’s vision. It doesn’t reinvent the genre but it definitely moves the bar back towards the classic vibes of yesterday’s best. Honeymoon will debut at theaters and VOD.