How well do you know the one you love? It’s a question that’s been posed many times before with tremendous power, but Leigh Janiak’s debut feature manages to find a way to approach the issue in a way that feels both original and deeply unsettling.
Rose Leslie (Game Of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful) star as Bea and Paul, a just-married couple who head to Bea’s parents’ house by the lake for their honeymoon. It’s a little rustic and Paul doesn’t like the way that Bea’s childhood friend is looking at her, but everything is still very much idyllic. Until, that is, Paul wakes up in the night and finds Bea apparently sleepwalking in the woods, half-naked.
She claims that she’s fine, but her behaviour soon drives Paul to suspicion. What exactly is Bea hiding? What is the reason behind her apparent change?
Janiak creates a sense of familiarity from the get-go. A couple going to a cabin in the woods is hardly the most original setting, but the easy chemistry of Treadaway and Leslie quickly draws us in. The big question seems to be what will be the threat that they have to confront?
However, the film doesn’t make things that easy. The first third sees Bea and Paul encounter a couple of minor stumbling blocks, but once Bea returns from her late-night jaunt in the woods it’s very clear that something’s changed. As her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, the atmosphere becomes unbearably tense. Something is wrong with her and Paul doesn’t know what it is and, most importantly, neither do we.
Rather than draw on monsters or masked killers, the real horror of Honeymoon is that you might not know the person you love. Did Paul ever really know his wife or has something changed? Bea’s insistence that everything is fine and Paul’s increasing panic in the face of that obviously not being the case is so effective because the script and performances are so strong.
Janiak creates a creeping and powerful sense of dread as Bea’s small mistakes or lapses in memory begin to add up. When the film finally plays its hand, you may have guessed what’s going on but that’s not really important. Bea seems to be just as scared as her husband, and the emotional trauma that the characters go through is every bit as horrifying as the more visceral shocks.
Janiak shows tremendous confidence and skill handling this subject matter and draws superb performances from her two leads. Leslie in particular gives a star-making turn that is just excellent, while the consistently watchable Treadaway makes Paul’s paranoia and fear relatable and convincing.
Honeymoon is chilling, it will make your skin crawl, and it will stay with you for days. Seek it out.