EIFF 2014: Honeymoon review

A slow-burn indie horror that'll give you nightmares, Andrew checks out Honeymoon...

Honeymoon is a small-scale horror film, featuring only four speaking characters, that feels familiar in many ways but delivers an unnerving experience nonetheless. While the newly married couple, a cabin in the woods, and odd behaviour following some apparently innocuous incident aren’t exactly novel in genre-films, the combination here is delivered efficiently enough to pack a punch.

Featuring Game of Thrones‘ Rose Leslie and Penny Dreadful‘s Harry Treadaway as a young American married couple, Honeymoon really takes its time to invest in their relationship. The first half an hour is dedicated to showing how in love they are, and while this may seem excessive there is merit to this approach. There’s a lot of subtle storytelling going on, although initially the slow pace and non-horrific scenes of happy, young, highly sexed people being in love might try the patience of people wanting dreadful, uncanny things to happen.

Rest assured, they do.

After a bout of sleepwalking, mysterious lights, and a meeting with two strangely withdrawn and distracted people, Paul and Bea find their honeymoon stops being the romantic getaway they’d envisioned, and instead starts breaking them as people and as a couple. The soundtrack is a clue to the tone of the film for these parts, opting for the sparse electronic burble and fragments of acoustic instrument of so many low budget movies. They set the mood, making the film feel more like an intense indie drama about relationships than a horror. That’s because, for the most part, Honeymoon is about the relationship. Every now and then, however, out come the Ominous Chords, accompanying small jump scares, and suggestions of something malignant.

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Leslie and Treadaway make for a photogenic couple, initially all smiles and almost offensively happy couple banter. The only distracting thing is Leslie’s occasional Irish sounding twang in her accent, and the fact that Treadaway looks like about four of the Game of Thrones cast at the same time. These aren’t exactly big problems. As time goes on, Leslie slips into a subtle performance before giving a tremendously physical one in the last third of the film, and Treadaway deliberately sheds his charm to go for a dead eyed hollowness. Simply efficient acting, editing and sound design lead to some intense moments while the couple work out what is going on. Leslie achieves Acting Weird by acting as if nothing is going on, when clearly something is wrong.

You can tell something is up by the body horror.

Someone left the preview screening. Someone jumped at the preview screening, producing a long period of nervous laughter. When the film goes for body horror it is quite impressively discomforting. The horror isn’t based on jump scares, but it’s insidious, and ultimately incredibly sad. There are moments of heart-pounding build up, but ultimately it’s the sickening nature of the mystery (and it remains something of a mystery, in the end) that will linger in the memory, although the emotional pay-off works too. It’ll be especially potent to anyone who’s suffered similar, real-life situations (though here the cause is more fantastical than medical).

While this may sound unhelpful to Honeymoon‘s cause, it is reminiscent of Troll 2 in some respects, except it’s well-realised and the acting is good. There are no ‘so bad it’s good’ qualities here. It’s a slight but unnerving movie, that suffers from the problem of exposing its own foundations. Without those, the ending wouldn’t be nearly as effective, but the initial setup isn’t the most thrilling cinema. However, the final third will stay with you, possibly making your entire body wince at the memory for some time afterwards.

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3 out of 5