Writer-director Leigh Janiak (recently hired to remake The Craft) proves just how much can be done with a small cast, an inventive premise, some really great female body horror, and the eternal question of “how well can you really know another person?” with her debut feature, HONEYMOON.
Twentysomething newlyweds Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) head to her family’s’ cottage in upstate New York for their honeymoon, but the bad vibes descend quickly when a local shop owner, a childhood friend of Bea’s, and his wife, (seemingly the only other folks in town) tell them to leave immediately. The young couple tries to forget about the strangeness of the day, caught up in their newly-married lust, but later that night, Paul finds a naked Bea in the woods with no memory of what happened or how she might’ve gotten there. Bea brushes it off as sleepwalking, but as her behavior becomes weirder and weirder in subtly disarming ways (one of the film’s biggest strengths is showing how even the most minute changes in behavior from an intimate partner can be incredibly upsetting) Paul begins to worry about what might’ve happened to her out in the woods. He immediately jumps to rape or abuse, but Bea dissuades him, and tries to keep things light between the two of them.
Eventually, Bea’s behavior grows more irrational, and tensions boil over when Paul notices strange bites on her inner thighs, a sure sign of rape in his mind. Bea locks herself in their bathroom, where Paul finds her mutilating her genitals in an attempt to get something out of her. In the gnarliest birth scene in a horror film since The Fly, Paul helps Bea expel a huge, spiny worm, which momentarily brings her back to her old self. She explains that mysterious lights in the forest drew her to them, and she was subsequently impregnated by a creature that’s slowly taking away parts of her personality…and that they’re coming for Paul next. Bea tries and fails to save Paul by drowning him, and communes again with the forest lights, now joined by the shop owner’s wife. It’s a bleak ending, but the ambiguity of what exactly has impregnated/possessed Bea only makes the film’s conclusion scarier.
While the vaginal body horror in Honeymoon provides the narrative with its most shocking, unsettling moments (Janiak tackles male fears like vagina dentata and impregnation by another man head on), it’s the rapid downfall of Bea and Paul’s blissful union that provides the film with its most harrowing moments, keeping in the grand tradition of other horror films about marriage, like The Brood and Possession. The idea of marrying someone, then seeing the personality you fell in love with disappear, bit by bit, is truly terrifying, and the visceral nature of horror allows for this disintegration to become realized in vivid, bloody detail. Janiak’s film warns young couples against marrying too soon, keeping secrets from your partner, and for male partners in heterosexual relationships, having an inherent fear of your lady’s business. Honeymoon is a thoroughly millennial horror film, and one that proves less is often more in horror, especially when it comes to primal fears about coupling, pregnancy, and the violation of women’s bodies.