“HONEYMOON” (SXSW Movie Review)
“Have you ever killed something?” Bea asks. It’s less an ominous foreshadow—although, there’s plenty of that—and more simply a new wife helping her new husband understand her outdoors-heavy past. When Paul (Harry Treadaway) first arrives at Bea’s (Rose Leslie) family cabin, he’s confronted with the “Bear Room,” that which houses the skin of an enormous black bear, as well as continuous evidence of Bea’s truly handy skills. For the bridegroom, it’s frankly intimidating. When Paul is additionally face-to-face with a summer fling from Bea’s adolescence, a chilling layer of real, very human anxiety forms in Leigh Janiak’s feature debut. Bubbling just underneath the distressing question of, “How well do I know who I married?” is another dreadful prospect: “Am I enough for this stranger?”
Like many of its forebearers, HONEYMOON is a cabin-set scary story. Refreshingly however, director Janiak avoids much in the way of traditional jolts, instead choosing to unsettle with a scenario of new domestic bliss lost to mistrust and helpless concern. On their second night of a secluded getaway, Paul resolves to get up intensely early to prove his own real-world skills and catch some lake-dwelling dinner. Failing to even get out of the house competently with all the fishing gear, he discovers Bea out of bed and possibly missing out in the pitch-black woods. Bea is eventually found standing nude in some state of shock. What follows is a few frightening days in which she’s poor at recalling many things soundly, while clearly concealing a terrible fate.
Adorned with a fuzzy, idyllic aesthetic of the great outdoors, Janiak’s film is clearly working in contrast. The peace of nature surrounds the unnatural, and tight, often admirable long takes constrict and convey the frenzy that’s not supposed to descend after the happiest day of your life. In fact, it seems the heaviest, scariest moment in HONEYMOON sees Paul already taking to spying in his new union, uncovering Bea in the bathroom mirror rehearsing excuses to refrain from intimacy. There are few things worse than being lied to. One is to know you’re being lied to.
And like so, HONEYMOON creeps up its viewer as Paul attempts to genuinely care for a person he didn’t marry. Being an intimate piece—actors Leslie and Treadaway largely carry HONEYMOON, oddly both concealing their UK accents—the film waits to reveal all that’s wild and gross. Unfortunately such threatens to undercut the director’s otherwise assured hand, as Paul’s empathetic approach to helping Bea is saddled with far too many utterances and variations of, “Just tell me what’s going on.” Still, Leslie’s stirring performance and Bea’s ultimate situation is far too powerful, far too memorable (and pretty gnarly) to deflate a lasting chill.