All good horror films construct a sense of unease by drawing on relatable fears, burrowing deep into your subconscious and unearthing a Pandora’s Box of internalised anxiety. Leigh Janiak’s genuinely unsettling debut feature, Honeymoon (2014), examines one of the great fears in our monogamous society; namely, what if you found that special someone to share your life with, only to discover that they’re not the same person you fell in love with? Janiak’s inquisition into post-nuptial angst observes newly-weds Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) on their honeymoon at a remote lakeside cabin. Once there, the cabin becomes a hermetically sealed, sweltering hotbed of infatuation.
Paul and Bea can barely keep their hands off one another, as if discovering each other’s bodies for the first time. Thankfully, this insufferable display of affection is short-lived, and on their second night in the cabin Paul wakes up to find Bea missing. He eventually finds her standing naked and disorientated in the middle of the woods. Paul carries her home, but the girl who re-enters the cabin is a pale imitation of the woman he married. The following day Bea appears forgetful, distant and not her playful self. As her condition worsens, Honeymoon finds itself growing immune to its clichéd romantic set-up, metamorphosing into a delectably dark psychological thriller. The overriding sense of mystery Janiak manages to create from limit resources further renders this existential thriller with a welcome degree of complexity not often seen today.
It’s hard to look past the subtle feminist subtext that ripples underneath the film’s startling scenes of bodily discombobulation, yet it’s in Janiak’s deconstruction of marital identity where the psychological horror is allowed to fester and thrive. Instead of concentrating on the fear of losing a loved one, Honeymoon analyses the fear of losing love itself. Bea’s erratic behaviour – writing and rewriting details about herself in her notebook and forgetting the correct names of normal everyday objects – could also be seen as a two-sided study into the dismay of having to care for a sick loved one or, alternatively, the worry that your own partner may struggle to fulfil the duties of the caregiver. With the exception of one scene of extreme gore and a few obligatory ‘bumps in the night’, Janiak moves away from a reliance on camera trickery and Foley work, instead using language to provide her oppressive atmosphere.
Linguistic trickery and Bea’s irregular use of everyday words build a constantly evolving sense of distress, whilst Janiak’s command of tone impressively leaves the audience on the edge of the seat. Whilst the film’s conclusion might feel abrupt and a little too ambiguous for some, there’s no denying that Honeymoon’s insular world of youthful self-absorption and marital disentanglement leaves a lasting impression. As the old adage goes, it’s always best to leave the audience wanting more. The horror genre isn’t traditionally known for the works of its female directors (sadly), but whilst Honeymoon might not be a groundbreaking entry to the annals of independent horror, Janiak is an exciting director worth keeping an eye on.