Leigh Janiak interview: Honeymoon, body horror, and shooting in the rain

Sarah talks to the director of Honeymoon about Cronenberg, pregnancy horror, and inevitably, Jason Statham...

What’s the scariest thing you can imagine? If we’re honest, it’s probably not some kind of monster lurking in the dark. It’s the idea of something happening to someone we love. Leigh Janiak’s first feature, Honeymoon, plays on the kinds of fears and insecurities that we all harbour, and turns them into something stomach-turningly awful. (And I mean that in a good way – it’s a horror film, after all). I grabbed Leigh for a chat about the film, and here’s what she had to say…

Where did the initial inspiration for Honeymoon come from? It’s your first movie, so what made this story the right one for you to direct?

My writing partner, Phil, and I started with this idea of exploring what happens when the person you know best turns into someone you no longer recognize. This is my first film, but not my first screenplay. We’d been writing together for years, trying to break in. Finally, after watching these great indies coming out (in 2011, I think) specifically Monsters, it just felt like it was time to actually make something.

So when we started writing Honeymoon it was with this commitment in mind – we were going to make it into a film, no matter what.

Ad – content continues below

Honeymoon starts with what looks like a pretty typical horror scenario – young people going out to a cabin in the woods – but it soon subverts a lot of the expectations that go along with that. What made you choose that setting?

The setting was really personal. I grew up going to a cottage in Canada in the woods. I loved it there, but I remember how it felt so isolated, so far from civilization and no matter what, a few days into our annual family trip it would, without fail, start getting under my skin. Creeping me out. It felt like someone could just murder my entire family and it would be forever until someone realized it. Anyway, when we started writing Honeymoon with an aim at making it eventually, there was this idea that we could use that family cottage, if need be.

Tell me a bit about the casting. It must have been extremely important to get the right actors for both Bea and Paul; what kinds of things were you looking for in your stars?

I think more than anything, I didn’t want Bea and Paul to feel like they were in a horror movie. Does that make sense? I was looking for actors that had depth and would be able to keep things grounded and real without any kind of awareness of the “genre” nature of the situation they found themselves in. Rose and Harry ended up being a perfect fit, across the board.

Did the characters change at all once you’d cast Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway?

I would say it wasn’t so much that the characters changed, but rather they actually became real and completely three dimensional once Rose and Harry came aboard. We purposefully left a lot of character detail out of the script, so other than the emotions and the responses that were detailed on the page, Rose and Harry were able to really develop the character in a way that rang true for them.

Ad – content continues below

What was the most difficult part of the shoot?

Ah. There were a few things… I mean, I think you always want more time. And for me shooting nights was difficult because we went from 12 hours of daylight to 8 hours of shooting night, so that was hard, especially given how much night-work we have in the film.

And the rain… Argh. We had terrible torrential downpours that really messed up our schedule. We had to flip flop things a bunch, which, we were trying to shoot as close to in sequence as possible, for Rose and Harry’s emotional continuity, but that became a pipe dream…

What makes Honeymoon so devastating, at least to me, is that you spent such a long time establishing the characters and their relationship, and then things go so horribly wrong – without, really, either character making any glaringly wrong choices. It’s something beyond their control that rips them apart, but it’s the apparent strength of their relationship that makes that so terrifying. I guess what I’m asking is if whether you agree, and if so, what that says about marriage and relationships?

I’m so glad you’ve put it like that — that’s exactly what I was hoping for, this idea that sometimes these things just happen that rip us apart. You really have articulated it exactly right.

There’s a sort of tradition of pregnancy horror that seems to be on the rise at the moment, with Rosemary’s Baby-influenced movies like Annabelle popping up. Would you say Honeymoon fits in there? It seems like pregnancy is a pretty good starting point for body horror, too, for obvious reasons…

Ad – content continues below

There are certainly currents of “pregnancy” horror in Honeymoon and Rosemary’s Baby was a huge influence for me, largely because of how grounded it stays for so long, despite the fact that the devil really is real in it…

That said, I don’t know if I would include Honeymoon specifically in the sub-genre. While Bea has been “impregnated” it’s more just about her body, her identity changing because of this thing that has happened to her, not as much because of that which is growing inside of her. I’m splitting hairs though a bit I guess.

What movies influenced you? It seems like Cronenberg might be an obvious touchpoint, but which filmmakers would you say have inspired or influenced your approach to directing?

Cronenberg, yes. Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby. Kubrik, The Shining. Aronofsky. And definitely Haneke.

What’s your next project going to be?

Phil and I have been working on a TV limited series which we’re hoping to set up in the next month or so. And we’ve been getting into new original feature ideas, too!

Ad – content continues below

Finally, every Den of Geek interview ends with the same question, so: what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?

Ha! Without a doubt, The Transporter.

Leigh Janiak, thank you very much.

Honeymoon is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.