One of Honeymoon’s major elements had me thinking about it the same way I’ve thought about the superhero blockbusters of recent years, namely, Americans played by British actors. Spider Man’s last two actors have been Brits, Dr. Strange, Superman, etc. Is it that these actors are any better than people you could find in the US? Or is it that they’re cheaper to hire? In Honeymoon, the two lead roles of American newlyweds are played by Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie, and Harry Treadaway, from Penny Dreadful. There’s nothing about these roles as written that would indicate a need for anything other than two young, good looking actors – and those are commodities that are never in short supply – since the movie is also set in the US. It’s somewhat curious to me. Given that both these actors have spectacular screen chemistry, though, the casting was spot on.
And this is just as well, because if ever a movie could succeed or fail purely on casting alone, Honeymoon is it. From the get go, you need to believe that these two people are married, and not just that – that they’re newlyweds. It’s easy to play a married couple who have grown used to each other over years, but not so easy to capture that still burning desire and chemistry that brought them together in the first place, at a time of their lives where there’s a new kind of exploration phase just beginning. The good news here is that both Leslie and Treadaway portray this terrifically. I could totally buy that these two had just gotten hitched; they’re that good together. Far from the hard as nails character she played on Game of Thrones, Leslie conveys a vulnerability that feels real, and Treadaway (whom I’ve never seen before) shows a great natural range that goes from anger, to melancholia to consuming sadness in the course of the 90 minutes. It would be hard for any viewer to not watch this movie and feel some kind of connection with either of these two characters.
But of course, this isn’t a romance movie, it’s a sci-fi/horror, cabin-in-the-woods tale that is written with a slow-burn mystery plot at its heart. You don’t really know exactly what’s happening until Act 3, though if you guess at the midway point, you’re likely to be right. Ably written by Phil Graziadei and Leigh Janiak and well directed by Janiak in her first feature, Honeymoon unspools at a leisurely pace, which feels right. The plot gives you time to get to know both these people, why they’re at the cabin, what the cabin means to them, what they mean to each other. I have to say, as someone who is character-driven, this movie really appealed to me. I also liked not just the characters, but also the story itself; it has enough twists to draw you in, but they’re neither as numerous or as “big” as to distract you from the thrust of the story itself. Also, there’s enough meat on the bones of this plot for anyone who likes to see metaphors in movies, whether they were intended by the writer or not. Generally, I don’t like to bolt on things to a movie if I can help it, but it does feel like there was an attempt to use the deteriorating mental and physical condition of one of the characters to say something about the effect of illness on a marriage – and even if there wasn’t, it’s not a stretch to view the movie through that lens.
I can’t say I was disappointed by much of this. In terms of pure moviemaking, bigger casts and crews and bigger budgets have done much much less with their resources than the filmmakers have done with Honeymoon. It doesn’t feel like there was a penny wasted on this production; almost everything gets a high pass mark from me.
If you’ve heard anyone talk about this movie, they might have hinted at one scene in particular, and that scene is pretty graphic and wince-inducing, and it’s really the only plot point that explicitly names the genre the rest of the movie only hints at. It’s a shocking moment that stands out against the subtlety of the rest of the movie, and because of that it totally works, and packs a strong punch.
While I say I wasn’t disappointed by much of this, I was vaguely let down by the choice of fate that Graziadei and Janiak chose for one of the actors – it too strongly echoes the end to the arc of a character in one of my favourite, similarly nihilistic movies – I won’t say, because it’s extremely similar, and just as nihilistic.
Just like The Witch was an unexpected treat for me in terms of the mostly rubbish field of horror movies, Honeymoon is another welcome addition.