HONEYMOON **** USA 2014 Dir: Leigh Janiak. 87 mins
Writer-director Janiak’s feature debut is a beguiling and genuinely scary small-scale genre picture that cleverly plays with horror codes and conventions: complete with a central cabin in the woods setting and a harbinger character (“You’re not safe…”), it knows its debt to horror history, while also echoing the dark sci-fi codes of early X FILES as imposing beams of light penetrate a bedroom late at night, and a missing character “returns” from an unexplained disappearance, different and “marked”.
Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie convey intimacy and genuine sexual chemistry as the central honeymooning couple whose newlywed love and lust convinces and enhances the impact of what follows. Waking up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, Leslie returns from a bout of sleepwalking with mosquito bite-style marks on her thighs; Treadaway fears sinister human forces at work when he finds her torn nightdress in the woods, but her physical and mental decline suggest something far greater. Avoiding the cheap shocks and overt FX to which we have become accustomed, Janiak sustains an intense sense of unease via increasingly harrowing, deceptively small moments, none more chilling than the scene that captures Leslie secretly “rehearsing” simple conversation while writing down the most basic facts about herself – as if she has to learn them all over again. The film flirts briefly with icky Cronenbergian body horror, but Leslie’s second half transition hinges mostly on harrowing personal torment rather than in-your-face physical horror. It’s a rare contemporary genre flick that nails botht he characterisation and a drip-feed creepiness reminiscent of the very best X FILES episodes.
Review by Steven West