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The first in this year’s series (but certainly not the last) to be written and directed by a woman, Honeymoon is everything a horror movie should be. It’s also something new, something different, and dare I say – maybe something better.
Come to the Light
The first thing I notice watching Honeymoon is the vast presence of light. Daylight.
Horror is most often fraught with darkness. First in theme, then in tone, and finally, in its actual lighting. People scare easiest in the dark. Isn’t that why most horror films are best seen in a theater; Trapped in a seat with no easy escape in a pitch black room with limitless ceilings?
Honeymoon is set in the springtime, on a lake, and the actual light could not be more voluminous. It’s downright sparkly, the way it reflects off the water. In the dewy eyes of our newlywed protagonists, it’s tangible, too.
When darkness does seep in, it conveys a sense of loss – or perhaps the right idea is “of being lost.” The woods are used as they typically are in horror – as a place full of unknowns and things that hide. Where Honeymoon differs, however, is that the bad thing doesn’t wish to remain hidden in that deep dark. It comes in the cover of bright, beaming light; an otherworldly glow that interrupts the peace of sleep and night.
Fill Me Up, Buttercup
It would be easy to call Honeymoon a horror film about birth. Like Rosemary’s Baby or Eraserhead, it captures that particular type of tension between couples about to have a child.
But Honeymoon happens before birth, before conception – just as the very idea of what could be has entered the picture. They’re married now: sex doesn’t have to be just for fun. And although something surely takes root in Bea, I don’t know that I’d align it with a living thing.
I think, instead, that what Bea and Paul are dealing with is a very different fear of coupledom. In Bea’s case, the fear of losing herself in another. In Paul’s case, the fear that he may not be enough.
Without being overly heavy in the spoiler department, I will say that whatever Bea is “full of,” it is not Paul’s. And whether you interpret this as baby, something else, the problem is that it leaves no room for her new husband. Her worsening condition keeps him from coming too close, from enjoying their honeymoon the way a newly married couple should: he literally cannot be with her. And that sudden new boundary frightens the hell out of him.
Now that might be because she can’t remember her own name, or where he proposed, or what they ate at their wedding reception. Hell, she can’t even get their address right. But I venture to say it has more to do with the fact that Honeymoon Bea no longer has room for her husband, she’s so full of someone (or something) else.
The Bonds of Marriage
What’s particularly strong about Honeymoon (and I honestly believe, particularly feminine) is its dialogue.
I can count on one hand the number of horror films I believe function primarily by superior dialogue and conversations: this is one of them. While this film under another writer or director may have chosen to focus more on effects or suspense tactics, Janiak builds Honeymoon the way a marriage is built: on connection.
The romantic relationship between Bea and Paul is palpable from their arrival at the lake house. Every interaction, be it a mundane chat about using worms as fish bait or Paul’s incredibly saccharine nickname for his now-wife, Honey Bee, is honest, quiet, and touching. If you thought thirty minutes into the movie that you were watching an indie/mumblecore romance, I wouldn’t disagree. But it’s the establishment of those bonds that allows the horror to disseminate.
When we vow to marry another, we vow to stay together forever. In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, you know the drill. But do we also, in taking those vows, agree to give up a part of ourselves? There is certainly an implication that we are to become one with the other, while still somehow preserving what makes us ourselves.
If this is true, then a marriage gone terribly wrong could involve the loss of that self. And how easy is that, when you think about it? To become co-dependent, to not realize the depths of who your partner really is, to lose yourself to the marriage – the thing – itself.
Honeymoon dares you to see how far that bond goes.
Where Heterosexual Male Fears Come to Die
But it’s true – if we add all this up, there’s one overwhelming thing I think Honeymoon is about: the heterosexual male’s fear of being made redundant.
You have to admit, it’s timely. White heterosexual men in America are having their realities checked on the daily. Their greatest fear? Perhaps it’s to become unnecessary. Be that in their jobs, as providers, lovers, or simply as leaders in a world trying to break free of a patriarchal system.
Paul is a lot of things in Honeymoon. A nice guy, a husband, a victim, a savior, an aggressor. He’s also confused, possibly cheated on, frightened, trapped, and ultimately hidden away where no one can find him.
And Bea? No doubt, something terrible is happening to Bea, too. Her transformation is horrific, a true loss of self. But is she afraid of what’s in the glow of the water, lighting up the dark?
Paul sure is.
The Fun Stuff
This is writer/director Leigh Janiak’s debut feature film.
If you have come back to this review halfway through watching the film and think, ALEX, nothing is happening here, you are wrong. Go back, sit down, and have some damn patience, please. Some things are worth waiting for (especially when the dialogue and chemistry between two actors is this strong).
In case you’re wondering, my favorite inexplicable moment is Bea forgetting how to make french toast. That’s really scary to me. Imagine your life without french toast. NO.
For the sake of time, I’ve omitted a longer bit about how Honeymoon deals with women as a unit. If you put two and two together about the lunar cycle, strange periodic visits, and women that act strangely around the same time – well, I think you can figure that out. But seriously: give the general fear of women and their menstrual cycles some real thought when watching this one.
Other films I’ve covered previously that remind me of this one include The Strangers (a classic slasher but based on a proposal gone awry), The Shining (because that marriage is a SHAM), and maybe even Jennifer’s Body (women are succubi who eat men for breakfast). Watch all of them.
If You Like It, Watch:
The Stepford Wives (1975): Into women that aren’t really women? Or rather, women as designed by their spouses? This is the science-fiction/thriller for you.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll mention it a million more. This Donald Sutherland version of the classic “pod people” tale is fantastic and horrifying. Don’t discount the 1956 original, either.
They Look Like People: Recent indies have really moved back into the realm of psychological terror, and I’m all for it. Check out this creepy AF gem with a paranoid main character who listens to a weird book on tape and is never quite sure which friends might be alien invaders. Do not watch at 2 am as I did if you are planning on getting quality sleep.