Reading over James’ review of last year’s Honeymoon, I was a little surprised by how dismissive it was. Sure, Honeymoon was far from the most original horror film ever made, but as a low-budget creep-out I found it to be fairly effective. James started his review by comparing the film to how he would imagine an arranged marriage: “Forced into it, you look for the positives and hold out hope that it might end up working out, only to end up completely disappointed.” There are a few reasons I find that statement unfair. For one thing the film was very much low-profile, so it’s hard to imagine anyone being “forced into it.” I’m more interested, however, in exactly why the film left him disappointed: the fact that he had seen the same story told before.
Fans of horror should be more than familiar with a little repetition. Themes, images, music cues, and plot structures are copied so liberally in horror that it has one of the longest lists of subgenres out there (including the likes of “slashers”, “creature features”, “giallo” and so on), each complete with its own genre-trappings & clichés common to nearly every film under its umbrella. James’ central disappointment with Honeymoon seemed to be that the film did not surprise him on a plot level. When I had previously written about the film on this site, I compared its my-wife-is-not-my-wife story to both Slither and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It didn’t especially bother me that I had seen similar (and admittedly more surprising) versions of Honeymoon before, because all three films were so stylistically diverse. One thing I particularly liked about Honeymoon was how understated the central bodily invasion was in comparison to the fever pitch ridiculousness of Slither and the widespread panic of Body Snatchers. Honeymoon is a story we’ve seen told before, sure, but rarely this intimately or realistically, with the victim forgetting to batter French toast or awkwardly saying “take a sleep” instead of “take a nap” as the early signs that something is horribly wrong.
James’ secondary complaint was that “the first third of Honeymoon is almost entirely the two [newlywed protagonists] fawning, staring longingly into each other’s eyes, and discussing their future. It is as tedious as it sounds.” I believe the sickening tedium of young love was an intentional effect here, especially considering that the film was set so early in a marriage instead of at a later stage. Throughout the early flirtations in the film it’s revealed that the young husband doesn’t really know his new bride well at all. He’s surprised by her boating abilities, stories from her past involving the place they’re vacationing, and her opposition to having children. Early in the film he even asks her “Who are you?” in a playful way. Later, after the life-altering/body-snatching event in the woods, he again asks “Who are you?” with a much more terrifying intent. There’s also a connection to the way he playfully threatens to tie her up in bed while they’re flirting and the way he forcefully ties her up in the scene James describes as “a flurry of gore that had the other people I was watching it with cover their eyes”. I think a lot of the point of Honeymoon was that although the couple was in the sickeningly sweet PDA part of their relationship at the beginning of the film, the marriage was already troubled. Jealousy, distrust, and a general lack of knowledge of each other were already major problems for the couple before that fateful meeting in the woods. When James notes that late in the film “Paul, terrified, starts to believe Bea is no longer the person he married,” he’s right, but I’m not sure Paul ever had a firm grasp of who it was he married in the first place, which is a scary thought with or without the gorey, supernatural context.
Honeymoon’s resolution may be “predictable”, but I disagree that the film that ramps up to it is “underwhelming”. It’s more that it’s a low-key, intimate take on an old story, one with new things to say about the ways young love can be scary. One of the best things about horror as a genre is the way old tropes can be reconfigured into new ideas and I think Honeymoon does just that in an admirable way, even if it’s not a home run. To be fair, I’m making a somewhat superficial distinction here between the movie being “not great” or “pretty good, actually”, but I feel it’s an important distinction all the same.