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[SXSW '14 Review] One Central Miscalculation Hurts ‘Honeymoon’

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Writer/director Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon is the rare example of a film that actually does quite a bit right but is critically hobbled by one miscalibrated piece of machinery. It’s not that the machinery in question is in and of itself faulty – it just doesn’t belong in this particular engine. When that happens, you’re left with an engine that is easy to admire but won’t actually get you anywhere.

In its opening moments the film is able to somewhat mitigate the cliche of its two leads delivering testimonials to the camera, on the day of their wedding, by adding a palpable authentic warmth to their chemistry that is all too rare in horror films. Unfortunately, it’s here, swinging for the fences to distinguish and elevate its characters, that Honeymoon makes its gravest miscalculation – it goes too big. The husband character of Paul (played by Harry Treadaway) is a cloyingly earnest presence who becomes pathologically needy by the end of the film’s first act and begins exuding an unwaveringly jealous rapey vibe by the midway point.

The problem is, Paul’s not a villain. He’s the audience’s access point into the entire thing. After his wife Bea (Rose Leslie) goes missing for a few hours during their up-to-that-point idyllic honeymoon, it becomes increasingly clear that she’s not well. She’s not necessarily being unkind towards him, but there’s a wounded sensitivity there that causes her to pull away from Paul. His response to her withdrawing a bit? To whine and needle and attempt to guilt her into sex at every turn. “I’m your husband,” he proclaims after being spurned (to be clear, they have had plenty of sex up until this point – maybe the lady just wants a day off). He equates physical validation with love at every turn and certainly puts a higher premium on it than trying to help her through whatever she’s going through.

Of course, the reason Bea is behaving differently is that she is different. Some kind of Alien presence is inhabiting her body Almost Human style and is trying to ape her behavior (to what purpose, I’m not sure – though there is some admittedly gooey practical body horror that goes along with this that I quite enjoyed). We should be feeling bad for Paul. This is some tragic sh*t, after all. But when he gets angry that she doesn’t enjoy a lame pantomime involving a frog he’s planning on cooking for dinner – it’s hard not to want to punch him.

In fact, midway through Honeymoon I began wondering if this Alien abduction business wasn’t some ingenious plan Rose concocted to distance herself from a husband she clearly made a mistake marrying. There are so many great real life honeymoon horror stories that I truly feel like this would have been fresh and relatable angle.

During the Q&A Janiak, who is clearly both an intelligent film consumer and talented director to watch despite my feelings about this film, said the inspiration for Honeymoon comes from those very moments – the horror of looking at someone you’ve decided to spend your life with and wondering “who is this person?” Unfortunately Honeymoon asks that question from the entirely wrong perspective. Which is a shame, because if this movie had been barking up the right tree it could have made a truly unique impression.

Official Score