Directed by Leigh Janiak (2014)
by Sandy DeVito
Honeymoon is a film I found by accident surfing Netflix over a year ago, and it's become one of my absolute favorites in contemporary horror. This movie is masterfully subtle, its themes several and complex, but if you let it in, it will open to you like a strange and loathsome flower.
Paul and Bea are newlyweds on their way to their honeymoon in a woodland cabin owned by relatives. Like all young couples, two things are immediately apparent: that they are deeply in love, and that they don't know a lot about each other beyond their mutual lust and hopes for a future together. Janiak's profoundly unsettling narrative is anchored by two extremely well-cast and convincing leads (Rose Leslie of Game of Thrones and Harry Treadaway of Penny Dreadful) who lend a sense of realism and sensuality to their characters' relationship, and an undercurrent of deep unease. Their arrival is soured by unwelcoming locals, and not long afterwards, Paul wakes in the middle of the night to find Bea missing from the cabin. After a frantic search he finds her alone, naked, and disoriented in the woods. Initially he fears she was raped or otherwise harmed, but there doesn't seem to be anything physically wrong with her. He soon notices, however, a marked change in her demeanor and behavior. She can't seem to remember basic things about herself or their relationship. She doesn't seem to know how to do normal things anymore, like make pancakes, and she rebuffs his every advance at lovemaking. It soon becomes clear that something far stranger and more sinister than they could have imagined happened to her in those woods.
One of the major themes in this film has to do with romantic and sexual relationships between people, and the questions it brings up are those we have all asked ourselves: is there any way we can ever really know each other? What if everything we thought we knew about our partner was a lie? What of the inevitability of problems that love just can't solve? Many of us fear no longer being desirable to our partners, and Paul's fear that Bea's rebuttals to his advances are due to unhappiness is an unease everyone who's been in a relationship has felt. Another theme is male fear of the female body: what do women want sexually? What can female bodies do, and why? By the film's climax, one thing is clear: there is dread that lurks in the shadows of our psyche, and there are things that we may never know, about existence, about ourselves, and about each other.
I was extremely pleased to hear that director Leigh Janiak would be helming the remake of The Craft (a movie about female witches in high school) because this film in particular shows a masterful and delicate understanding of women, of the fears that we often keep hidden and the fear that surrounds us from men, and the complexity of our inner lives. The female monster has long been denied a place in the horror pantheon, but like this film, she inevitably erupts without permission, sometimes in strange ways others can hardly begin to understand. And what we think we know about one another may, in fact, be nothing but an illusion.