Director: Leigh Janiak
Magnolia Pictures
Genre: Horror

While the precise etymology of the word “honeymoon” is unclear, there are two prominent estimations of the root source. The first and most apparent, dating back to the mid-16th Century, suggests the term is meant to be descriptive of that first chapter of romance, when everything is most intimate, pleasurable, sweet (like honey) for a short phase (like the moon’s). A more modern understanding of the word has added an erotic element. Contemporary usage implies (or at times, explicitly includes) a certain sexual vigorousness that accompanies this traditional stretch of hyper-amorousness. Marriage, at least in the Western world, is an institution once defined by the basic principles of the Judeo-Christian faith sets. As such, among the many ceremonial symbols, marriage offers the granted permission of the pure couples brought to union so as to consummate their love in ways that are holy recognized and divinely acknowledged. In the cultural consciousness, the honeymoon provides a forum in which that discovery can take place, enlivened by carnal pleasures given God’s permission. While commitment and belief in these stricter symbols has waned, the echo of their influence is apparent.

Leigh Janiak’s recent horror film Honeymoon starts with a simple set-up: a couple is on their honeymoon. Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) settle in to a remote lakeside cabin, an unconventional spot for young honeymooning lovers, both in terms of film and real life expectations. But dialogue suggests this to be a location which is familiar to Bea, one where she spent an important part of her childhood. This familiarity is contrasted by Paul’s increasingly apparent unease and discomfort amidst his surroundings. There exists, even in the opening of the film, a measurable tension between the two, exacerbated by Paul’s inability to address any situation in a manner divorced from his sexual desire. Paul assumes license over Bea’s body. Not only does he become pouty upon missed sexual opportunities, he attempts to mediate conflict solely through sexual terms and uses Bea’s lack of intimate reciprocation to measure her happiness. Even in marriage, Paul only understands Bea through a sexual evaluation.

And this is all before the horror sets in. When Paul finds that Bea has wandered naked into the woods in the middle of the night, stuck in some sleepwalking-type trance, a chain of exponentially more bizarre behavior is set into place. Bea becomes detached and distant, she loses her attention span and memories, and eventually, begins to show physical wounds that are more violently prominent on her thighs and deeper. Eventually, the couple finds itself engaged in a full on assault that cinematically combines the best elements of invasion and body horror.

We horror fans are spoiled right now. We exist in the middle of an unprecedented stretch of not just satisfying, but great and near great horror films. I do not remember a moment at which so many quality horror films, both traditional and experimental, have been offered in such quick succession. Blinded by the large, colorful prizes on the top shelf, horror fans have to ensure that they are not overlooking more accessible options just a shelf down. With Honeymoon, Leigh Janiak does horror right even outside of the horrific central narrative. Honeymoon makes use of her secluded setting to establish the sort of effective landscape claustrophobia that more well-known directors have failed at achieving. She dictates with Haneke-inspired patience until she capitalizes with Carpenter-style punctuation. And perhaps more impressive than all of this, it is most evident in a single movie that Janiak, who has been pegged to remake the cult classic The Craft, is smarter than her future peers.

There is documented a second suggested etymological source for the word “honeymoon,” traceable to the same time period as the first. This second usage leans harder on the indication of the “temporary phase” than it does against the “heightened sweetness.” In this definition, “honeymoon” is applied in reference to love’s inevitable waning, a promise that this fleeting, intoxicating passion won’t last. In Janiak’s film, such a reading suggests that Paul’s dominantly sexual appreciation of Bea is exhaustible, finite. At some point, because her utility is so narrow, her purposefulness to him–and ultimately her entire identity–will run empty. Seeing Honeymoon as Bea’s fight against two forms of inevitable deconstruction makes it all the more disturbing, and the film’s final chilling lines feel like a cold needle pushed straight to the bone.