The scenario behind Leigh Janiak’s debut feature Honeymoon is one of the most common in the horror genre: A newlywed couple spends their honeymoon at a cabin in the woods and everything goes horribly wrong. But while it never goes so far as to fully subvert the tropes it trades on, it refreshes those clichés with material that is as emotionally resonant as it is utterly terrifying. Honeymoon, surprisingly, turns out to be as much a compelling relationship drama as it is an increasingly grotesque body-horror flick. It all begins when our newlyweds, Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie), embark on the titular post-wedding getaway to Bea’s childhood vacation home, a piece of creaky lakeside real-estate. They’re a sweet, young couple whose relationship is filled with cute little tics and inside jokes that lend an amiable believability that most contemporary horror film couples lack (see: Devil’s Due or the grating leads in any of the Paranormal Activity installments as counterexamples). But their post-marital bliss is cut short when Bea, after an inexplicable encounter out in the woods one night, begins acting strangely, in ways that hint that she may be playing host to something sinister inside her.
The film, which comes in at a brisk 87 minutes, builds quickly to an astonishing third act filled with intense bickering and unnervingly bloody images.
Janiak wastes no time getting down to the thematic nitty-gritty here as marriage anxieties set in quickly for the pair; the whole premise of the film’s gradually revealed body-snatchers narrative lies in that painful moment when you discover a loved one to be something entirely other than what you’d believed him/her to be. Early on in their trip, Paul slips and makes a comment, in reference to the previous night’s activities, about Bea’s womb. After an awkward moment the two quickly reconcile, but the moment foreshadows the realization of the marriage’s more sexual anxieties as the horror becomes vaginal, with strange bruises appearing on Bea’s inner thighs and profuse bleeding from her nether region when touched. Whatever lurks outside their getaway home has found its way inside Bea and now gestates there, controlling her every thought and movement. In a sense, that parasite is an embodiment of her fears of pregnancy, the prolonged after-effect of phallic penetration. But Bea’s anxiety over child-rearing is only one source of horror in Honeymoon. Much of the film is told from Paul’s perspective, since the specifics of Bea’s condition are unknown until he discovers them for himself. Paul’s fears of losing the woman he loves are, of course, understandable as Bea has obviously become very ill and cold, both physically and emotionally — yet the relatively obvious nature of his distress is much less interesting than Bea’s freakier predicament. Thankfully, though, the film, which comes in at a brisk 87 minutes, builds quickly to an astonishing third act filled with intense bickering and unnervingly bloody images. While Honeymoon certainly delivers on its bare-minimum promises of atmosphere and gore, it also offers gratifyingly rich psychosexual undercurrents that distinguish this promising debut from the rest of the horror pack.