For the most part, Leigh Janiak’s debut feature is a romantic melodrama in which its newlywed couple grapple with the overwhelming concept of what marriage really is. It’s not long before things begin to go wrong; thin slivers of doubt creep in and the whole film’s central relationship seems hopelessly stranded on the shores of an isolated lake retreat. Of course none of this means anything unless we care, and thanks to the fantastic pacing of the mystery and the intimate portrayal of the couple, we are very much drawn into the atmosphere of romance way before any kind of horror catches our attention.
Even then, the horror of Honeymoon is creeping and quiet, lies and secrets pervade an initially honest portrayal of love. Janiak’s genius is in her ability to juggle the possible effects and sources of this doubt and anxiety. You’re never sure who’s flipped their lid since both of the sickeningly sweet lovers shows signs of stress. Bea (Rose Leslie) seems to feel the strain of marriage first, slipping into schizophrenia, whilst Paul’s attempts to hold things together reveal an uncomfortable and desperate love for his wife. Both are dangerous to some extent but neither see the real crunch coming. Maybe that’s why the last act seems to lose grip on that tension: the answer will never be as interesting as the mystery. The actual reveal is pretty well done, but still feels like a lesser answer to a far more intriguing set of questions. If the film had stayed on the straight and narrow, maintained a more psychological slant, then this would have maintained its air of disturbia right up until the bitter end.
In the end Honeymoon proves itself a despairingly pessimistic essay on the alienating effects of marriage. Janiak executes her horror drama with impressive gusto, orchestrating the collapse of this marriage with tension and terror. Placid camera work, startling night-time sequences, and two fantastic lead performances make this an incredibly uncomfortable yet totally impressive feature debut.