After getting its premier at this year’s South by South-West, Honeymoon is brought to us by first time director Leigh Janiak, who was also co-writer, and judging from her debut feature she’s a director to keep an eye out for in the future. The film opens with newly-wedded couple Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway), travelling to Bea’s family’s cabin in rural Canada for their honeymoon. Once there, they do all the things you’d expect a young, good looking couple that have only just made their nuptials to do; they go for sun-dappled walks through the woods, take romantic boat rides and make love in a variety of places throughout the cabin. Then in the middle of the one night, with strange lights flashing though the woods, Bea disappears and is later found freezing, dazed and naked in the woods. Over the next few days, she begins to act in subtly off ways, and when strange bite-marks show up between her thighs, it’s clear something is seriously amiss.
A low budget horror film such as this relies heavily on the answer to the following questions. One: Is the script good enough to make you care about the characters? And Two: Is it scary? In the case of Honeymoon, the answer for both is a resounding yes. As you may have guessed from the description, the story is nothing you haven’t seen or heard before; two young people in an isolated cabin in the woods surviving the malevolent forces that dwell outside, it could best be equated to the love child of The Evil Dead and some of Stephen King’s early works, The Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher come to mind. It isn’t original, but it doesn’thave to be, Janiak seems to embrace that fact that it’s a well-worn story and concentrates on doing it well, which she fully succeeds in. She manages to keep both the story and characters intriguing and thankfully doesn’t have any major example of horror movie logic; the characters react to the situation just like you would imagine normal people would act.
Janiak succeeds in building the scares with a well-paced script, the film achieves a certain level of fright because it has worked for it, not relying on jump scares or gore, and with a slim eighty-eight minute running time, not a moment is wasted. It also avoid sticking too close to the major clichés of this genre, and while the ending may leave some people wanting, the lead up is gripping, well-paced and occasionally, thanks to the performances and some very good make up at the end, succeeds in being really creepy and genuinely frightening.
What puts this ahead of so many other films of this ilk is the solid script and the really solid performances of the two leads. Rose Leslie who you might know as playing Ygritte in Game of Thrones, turns what could have been a very bland rendition of ‘possessed wife’ into a believable and rather unsettling character with a brave and really nuanced performance. Treadaway equals it with a perfect match to Leslie’s role, even though the script occasionally veers Paul towards being unlikable, he makes it clear that this is a guy simply reacting against the bat-shit insanity of the situation he finds himself in. But the major thing that makes this film work, and something that could have broken it if it wasn’t present, is the chemistry between the two. Leslie and Treadaway genuinely seem to like each other, and play two newlyweds in a haze of love and fun, very believably.
At this point, the sub-genre of cabin-in-the-woods horror has been done to death, been resurrected, parodied to great effect, and then done again; and Honeymoon is no exception. It’s far from being original or ambitious, but Janiak aims for a simple yet effective horror piece and does it very well.
Honeymoon will be shown at Monsterfest at Cinema Nova in late November.