A couple's sex-fueled honeymoon takes a dark twist when the new bride starts acting peculiar.
Newlywed life is fraught with difficulty as adjusting to life with someone else can make for plenty of stressful situations. At the least, the honeymoon phase can usually be depended upon to be a time of blissful happiness before reality settles. Director Leigh Janiak isn’t quite so generous with her newlywed couple in the backwoods horror Honeymoon. When young couple Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) get married they’ve barely just arrived at Bea’s childhood vacation cabin in the woods of Canada before strange things start happening threatening to cut short their marital euphoria.
While well-paced overall, Honeymoon does thickly lay on the ooey-gooey love of its main characters at the start. Setting up a sense of happiness that feels entirely too good to last. That said, Treadaway and Leslie (whom audiences may recognize from HBO’s Game of Thrones) have a light and affective chemistry. As Bea shows off the cabin, reliving the memories of her childhood and sharing this side of her with her new husband, they seem to be a truly well-matched couple. Their first few days are easy enough. A boat ride on the secluded off-season lake, late breakfasts, long walks, and lots and lots of sex. In fact, their inability to keep their hands off each other seems almost too pronounced. Oh, foreshadowing.
As they lie in bed their first night in the cabin, a light shines brightly through their bedroom window, a pulsing noise hinting at something ominous they remain unaware of. It isn’t until the couple decide to walk to the only nearby restaurant one evening that things seem out of sorts. The restaurant’s owner, Will (Ben Huber), immediately demands they leave until he realizes who Bea is, a childhood friend of his, and by his embrace, a friend who harbored long-time feelings for her. When his wife comes out Will gets irritated, erupting at her. The young couple decides to hightail it out of there, but Bea is distinctly distracted by her old friend’s behavior.
That night Paul’s alarm goes off hours early, causing him to get up and get ready to fish way earlier than he needs to. He realizes his mistake and makes his way back to bed to find that Bea is missing. In a panic he follows her trail to the woods where he finds her naked and in a daze. Shaken by this strange episode, he tries his best to reason with Bea to remember what happened to her. She seems alarmed but not frightened, claiming she must have sleep-walked despite having no previous experience doing so. Paul notices a strange wound on her upper thigh.
From there on out Paul’s paranoia builds, while Bea’s strange behavior increases. Paul’s initial reaction is jealousy, believing Will must have something to do with her late night excursion, and the building tension makes for a distinct unease. Over time Bea shows signs of being very unlike herself, her insatiable lust for Paul giving way to hesitancy and sexual rejection. In a particularly eerie scene Paul walks in on Bea practicing turning him down for sex. Leslie’s performance is subtle, toying with viewers minds as we process what we know of her loving behavior and her sudden uncommunicative demeanor. Their growing divide is as sad as it is tense.
Alas, like many horror films, there seems often to be the moment where the slow suspense gives way to answers, and when shock value is involved, rarely are those answers truly satisfying. Honeymoon doesn’t entirely misstep in its transition to the final reveal, and for once withholding some answers seems to work in the favor of the film’s gruesome ending. But in the same way the film built it’s suspense ever so slowly, so does the gore of the ending draw out so slowly so as to be too uncomfortable. It’s veritably squirm-inducing, and yet not quite satisfying as far as horror goes.
There are definite questions of relationship, identity, and even gender roles implied through the film’s choice of terror and the ways in which Paul and Bea act (Bea being the one to explain to Paul how to fish and hunt), but none of them leave any sort of impression or provoke lasting thoughtfulness. As for the horror elements, while effectively creepy, there are loads of missing explanations that might have pushed the film into exploring those deeper questions better while simultaneously providing a few more answers to its baffled audience.
Part “cabin in the woods” horror, part romantic honeymoon tale, and part sci-fi thriller, Honeymoon’s sweet beginnings give way to gruesome endings that, while terrifying, don’t entirely hit their mark.