Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Honeymoon: The Newlyweds’ Cabin in the Woods

The American dream does not seem to apply to newlyweds Paul and Bea. (They do not have much of a British dream either.) Instead of hoping for a better life than their parents were afforded, they mostly just expect to huddle together as best they can. As a result, it is disappointing but almost fitting when a sinister shadow is cast over their post-wedding getaway in Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

It was not exactly a shotgun wedding, but viewers get the sense Paul and Bea’s nuptials were somewhat abrupt. Nevertheless, they are clearly young and in love—but decidedly not rich. Their honeymoon will just be a few days at her family cabin and then it is back to the grind. At least they will have plenty of privacy, even though Paul was a little put out when they ran into Bea’s childhood sweetheart in town. Frankly, he seemed a little . . . weird.

Everything is lovey-dovey for the first twenty minutes or so, until Bea has a strange sleepwalker incident (or something). The next morning she seems distant and decidedly less into Paul. Maybe we can’t blame her for that, but Paul notices other forms of suspicious behavior. He tries to be proactive and engaged, but she is not having any of that.

Spryly straddling the horror and psychological thriller categories, Honeymoon is a tricky film to get a handle on. There is precious little gore, but it insidiously plays to our fears and paranoia regarding postmodern, post-AIDS intimacy. How well can we ever know someone and how easily can they change? Of course, all bets are off when an uncanny agency is at work.

In one hour and twenty-seven minutes, Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie go from insufferably cute to ominously tragic. While both are up-and-coming British screen thesps (she was Gwen Dawson, the chambermaid who yearned for a secretarial career in season one of Downton Abbey; he brings the creepy clamminess as Dr. Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful) they believably play generic English speakers. Maybe they’re Canadian (they have plenty of cabins up there). Leslie and Treadaway also develop convincing romantic chemistry on the way up the narrative arc and claustrophobic dramatic tension on the way down.

Seriously, when is a cabin in the woods ever a good idea in the movies? Regardless, Honeymoon is almost too subtle for its own good at times. While that might cost it with the midnight movie crowd, it will appeal to more mature genre fans. Moody and unsettling, Honeymoon is an impressive feature debut for Janiak, worth checking when it opens this Friday (9/12) in New York at the Cinema Village.