Love, madness and a mystery consume a newlywed couple who’ve embarked on their honeymoon at a lakeside cabin in the woods. What begins as a picturesque excursion for Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) soon descends into a nightmare when the new bride disappears in the middle of the night. After a tense search, she is discovered in the woods by her groom; nude, bruised and incoherent. He is immediately alarmed and when he questions her over what has happened she rebuffs his curiosity, initially blaming it on an episode of sleepwalking. It’s an explanation that seems adequate until her behavior becomes increasingly erratic and despondent. Her physical condition rapidly deteriorates and the question of what ails her, casts a dark specter over their celebratory trip and the future of their marriage.
Bea and Paul have an idyllic relationship: playful, caring and lighthearted. First-time director Leigh Janiak spends most of the film’s opening getting viewers to invest in their relationship and it’s time well spent. While, so many horror films get lost in the bloodletting and slasher intrigue, they often skip over this key ingredient. Forgetting to flesh out the characters at the center of the action and losing the humanity in its story as a result. “Honeymoon” admirably delves into these two likable beings, making it easy to root for them amidst their ensuing downward spiral.
Early on, anvils drop as to what’s happened and in some regards, they are almost too heavy handed. When it gets into its second half “Honeymoon” starts to hit the wall, with very little in the way of plot progress and a spatter of repetitive dialogue that is grating in its echoing ambivalence. It is in this realm that it relies heavily on genre clichés, as characters hemorrhage IQ points as readily as they do blood. The fairly intelligent people from the beginning steadily devolve into utter dullards. Bea’s denials grow increasingly exasperating and though Paul expresses his irritation, he fails to do anything proactive about it. As ridiculous decisions abound, the plot runs around in circles, as pointless bouts of arguing lead to no resolutions. Any rational person would behave much differently than what’s portrayed and chalking it up to fear doesn’t hold water.
As the film spins its wheels in the second half, it feels as if it’s just running down the clock as opposed to working towards a revelatory experience. When the culprit behind Bea’s condition is finally revealed, it is rather obvious and disappointingly generic. "Honeymoon" makes up for this with its atmospherically laden approach, which gives it an air of originality and unmistakable mystique. The underpinnings of horror clichés are dressed up enough to divert attention from the movie’s more formulaic aspects. There seems to be an attempt made by the film to serve as an allegory of sorts, though it’s unclear what it’s hoping to signify.
Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway both give admirable performances that ground the movie in a believability that is vital, especially when the hysterics of the final chapter take hold. To its credit the film exits with a sense of closure, sidestepping the vagueness that has dominated similar indie features. The particular emotion felt by this viewer in its wake proved to be a testament to the affability of its characters and the turns of its leads, as it's a rarely produced sensation from the genre. As a thriller it is compelling, as a love story its romantic and as a horror flick it leaves the audience with some things that are hard to shake despite desiring to. Rating: 6.5/10