Talking about a film like Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon without giving away a lot of what makes it great is not an easy task. Her confident directorial style is something of a marvel: the near-perfect balance between washed light amber tones and shadowy darks to frame the story is not something you’d expect to see from a first-time feature director. Her calm hand guides the viewer through a series of downward, unraveling steps without getting too nervous about adhering to form. Considering the place where the film ends from where it began, there would’ve been many opportunities to get bogged down in expectation or tradition and foul up what ends up being a stark and freaky final act.
Honeymoon tells the story of two newlyweds, Bea (Rose Leslie – Game of Thrones) and Paul (Harry Treadaway – Cockneys vs Zombies, Penny Dreadful TV Series) on a honeymoon of sorts to Bea’s family cabin on a picturesque lake set into a remote wooded location. It is lovely and peaceful and serves as a visual contrast to both characters’ referencing of life in ‘the city’. While this is a common theme in many thriller and horror films, their reason for going to this cabin seems totally valid and nothing about any of it seems overtly creepy by any means so you just kind of roll with it. Again, the beautiful touch of Janiak’s directorial hand and lens of cinematographer Kyle Klutz serve to disarm the viewer predisposed to suspect this serene backdrop.
Initially Bea and Paul are going along just swimmingly there – boating and cooking and generally being all manner of newlywed sweetness. The patience shown in this segment of the film gives the viewer a firm handhold on the humanity of the characters and ups the stakes as things unravel later in the film. One night, we see a strange light beaming into the cabin from one window to the next, seeming almost like a searchlight of some kind. Soon thereafter, Paul devises a plan to catch fish at daybreak but after his alarm goes screwy and he wakes up too early, he returns to find Bea nowhere to be found. His search for her becomes more worried and frantic and once he does find her, naked in the woods and completely out of it, the mystery of what she was doing starts its slow and steady reveal.
There are interesting context clues as to what might be happening and a wonderful introduction of a childhood ‘lake friend’ and his odd-behaving wife that adds to the mystery but the real joy of this film is watching our two leads descend into this mess little by little. While it would be tough to say the film clips at a breakneck pace at this point, it doesn’t take breaks and it doesn’t deal in false paths or a bunch of baloney. You have your theories and suspicions but the film doesn’t give you a lot of idle time to wallow in them. This film has a plan and you’re best served just going along for the ride. You’re invested in Paul and Bea and the way in which the concept of their honeymoon and life together is played in contrast to the creepy (seriously creepy in parts, seriously ucky in others) turn of the story and the inherent sadness of it. Both Treadaway and Leslie are excellent in this film and with one or both of them turning in less that what they did here, the impact of the thing or our investment in it would suffer.
There is a lot to like and a lot to admire in Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon, a strong first feature from a director who clearly sees with a smart set of eyes and a sinister sense of what both tears at your heart and turns your stomach. Well done all around.