It’s not every day that you find an unassuming, largely unheralded gem hidden deep in the Netflix horror section, so what the heck — when you do, in fact, stumble across one, it’s probably worth crowing about just a little bit, right? So allow me to introduce you, dear reader, to first-time director Leigh Janiak’s 2014 effort, Honeymoon.
Filmed in rural North Carolina with two British leads (not that you can tell, mind you — their American accents are flawless) for a reported $1 million, this flick is a perfect example of how much you can do with a small cast, an insular location, a “been there, done that” premise, and what looks to be a rather short filming schedule, as long as you’ve got a director who understands how to build suspense, get great performances from their actors, and keep his or her audience on their proverbial toes by way of expert pacing, a well-timed and pitch-perfect musical score, and keen utilization of a darkly tantalizing trail of breadcrumbs that viewers can easily follow to what is, frankly, a logical — and even unsurprising — conclusion. Honestly, all you up-and-coming indie horror auteurs out there — I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it one more time : there’s no need to reinvent the wheel if you know how to roll the one that’s already there just right.
Here’s our setup : Newlyweds Bea (played by Rose Leslie from Game Of Thrones) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) are heading to a remote lakefront cabin for their titular honeymoon. On the way, they attempt to grab a bite at a local restaurant that, as coincidence would have it, happens to be owned by one of Bea’s old friends, a guy named Will (Ben Huber). Good old Will is acting very strange and distant, though, and when his wife, Annie (Hanna Brown) shows up, she’s acting even more bizarre than he is. So, hey, the place is closed anyway and our young lovebirds need to get the hell out. The first night in the admittedly-cliched “cabin in the woods” seems to go well enough and all that, but then Paul wakes up to discover that his new bride gone with next to no trace, and ultimately finds her wandering in the woods dazed, disoriented, naked, and with no memory of how she got there. From that point on, it slowly starts to become clear that this honeymoon is on pretty shaky ground, and that the same may very well be the case for the marriage itself, given that Bea’s acting freakier and more unhinged all the time. Was she really just sleepwalking that night, or did something far more sinister and unspeakable take place?
As mentioned earlier, there are any number of less-than-subtle clues interspersed throughout here, and by the time the “revelations” hit they’re anything but, yet none of that really matters all that much because the cast does such a fine job of selling you on their confusion that you needn’t worry too much about the fact that yours is non-existent. Would an “out of left field” -style surprise have been welcome? Sure, I guess, but it’s always risky — if your “twist” is a stupid one, it can wreck everything you’ve built, and there’s no real need to rock a boat that’s navigating its choppy waters with so much finesse, anyway.
Janiak and co-writer Phil Graziadei both deserve a ton of credit for their work here, as smart and effective dialogue goes a long way toward elevating their well-worn premise to a higher plateau, but again, I really feel the need to single out the cast for their superb work, because they’re the ones who have imbued this material with a sense of mystery and suspense that, in all honesty, may not be there to any great extent on paper. Our principal tandem is terrific, sure, but it would be remiss of me not to mention that both Huber and Brown also manage to make more than the most of their ultra-limited screen time, as well, and give us a textbook definition of “cameos that really do matter.” When you have so few actors working on a production, the “weight” riding on each of their shoulders individually is all the heavier, yet everyone here bears it with near-amazing results. Kudos all around.
I know it probably sounds strange and maybe even more than a bit stupid to sing such high praises for a film that I freely admit packs little in terms of the truly unexpected, employs a damn-near-done-to-death premise, and relies on the basics of good acting, smart dialogue and characterization, and dynamic direction to tell a rather standard-issue tale in an anything-but-standard way, but seriously — give Honeymoon (which is also available on Blu-ray and DVD from Magnet Pictures) a shot and see if you don’t agree with me completely.