Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) are young, in love and just married. On their wedding-video testimonial, their quixotic interactions are rife with relational quirks and inside jokes as they expound upon how they met and the decidedly unconventional circumstances of Paul's proposal. The lovebirds joyously set off for their honeymoon, cans tied to their car's rear bumper rattling away as they look toward a future of limitless possibilities spread out before them. They seem kind of perfect for each other, full of the idealism that comes with opening a new chapter in one's life. The first act of "Honeymoon" is important, and also deceptive, disarming viewers with an engaging onscreen couple who could just as easily be the stars of a low-key cinematic slice-of-life were their fates not about to take a harrowing turn for the worse. When Paul asks early on, "Who are you?" upon learning something about Bea's past that he hadn't previously known, it is said with joking amusement. Such a question will hold a far more serious connotation soon enough, breeding a horror-thriller of metaphoric paranoia that proves not so easy to shake.
Their romantic getaway is supposed to be intimate and just for them, a weeklong trip to Bea's family's secluded vacation cottage. Their off-season arrival ensures that no one will be around, but also that the water on the lake is just a little too cold for swimming. All is well for them, even amid minor cracks appearing in their foundationBea isn't ready to have children, and a comment Paul makes leads her to feel pressureduntil they decide to eat at a tiny restaurant down the road. An uncomfortable run-in with a now-grown playmate (Ben Huber) from Bea's childhood and a warning from his harried girlfriend (Hanna Brown)"You should leave!" she urgently tells themsends up a red flag that they try to ignore. It isn't until the next day, however, that Paul senses something is really off. Following an odd sleepwalking incident in the early-morning hours, Bea no longer appears to be herself. The changes are small, but increasingly alarming. She forgets how to make French toast. Her sense of humor is delayed. Strange marks appear on the inside of her thighs. She thinks nothing of jumping in the frigid lake a mere day after she freaked out over merely touching the water with her hand. When Paul secretly catches her in front of the bathroom mirror practicing how to turn down his sexual advances, he becomes convinced that the person in front of him is not the same one he married.
A two-character chamber piece for the majority of its tight 87-minute running time, "Honeymoon" isolates Paul and Bea from civilization and then leaves them to sort out a living nightmare. Getting away from it all is their goal at the onsetthey don't want to spend their first trip as a betrothed couple with anyone but each otherbut when an outside force of unknown origin enters the equation, their intimate setting transforms into a claustrophobic trap. Debuting writer-director Leigh Janiak is slyly perceptive in observing Bea's behavior from Paul's point of view. The changes within her aren't overt, but heand, by this point in the film, the viewerknows her well enough to recognize that not all of the synapses that fundamentally make her who she is are firing. To see this fact gradually dawn on Paul leaves a most chilling imprint.
Harry Treadaway (2013's "Cockneys vs. Zombies
") and Rose Leslie (HBO's "Game of Thrones") are British actors playing Americans, a detail that is only noticeable a few times early on when their accents briefly slip. Subconsciously, however, it serves to add an additional layer to the story's thematic throughline of people playing parts. Together, Treadaway and Leslie are an ideal match as Paul and Bea, perfectly suited to portray a couple deeply and genuinely in love until it all goes wrong. The confused desperation and sense of betrayal read in Treadaway's eyesand his subsequent attempts to get through to Beaare wrenching, while Leslie is utterly riveting as a woman who is privy enough to what is going on to know that there is no stopping what has already been set into motion.
"Honeymoon" has been described in certain circles as an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" variation, an easy but not completely accurate comparison that doesn't take into account the complexities of what Janiak has achieved with her auspicious first film. She keys into the seemingly infinite facets that make up the bond between two people who believe they are meant for each other, and then sets about puncturing each one of them. The Bea of the movie's second half is not the same as the one at the beginning, but she's still in there somewhere, and the war that takes place within her body and soul materializes emotionally, physically and physiologically. The picture arrives at a conclusion that proves bleak not only for what happens, but how it gets there. And, if a lot is left open to interpretation, what is very apparent is the human tragedy that has taken place, one of broken promises and unfulfilled tomorrows. A skin-crawling thriller without compromise, "Honeymoon" is unpleasant, whip-smart and mesmerizing.