Where it lacks in originality, Honeymoon makes up in terrifying atmosphere and chocking paranoia.

Fiercely written and acted out with explosive chemistry, Honeymoon is ample reason why the horror genre is making a comeback. If a horror film is meant to induce raw fright with an unrelenting and unpleasant cerebral walloping, this is that film and it does it with sheer atmospheric build-up.

Having done her homework, it’s fair to say that debutant director Leigh Janiak knows where and how to pull the rug under your feet. Only here, that rug is pulled slowly but ever so firmly. Sharing scripting duties with debutant screen writer Phil Graziadei, the setup seems intentionally familiar with the whole done-to-death premise built around a desolate cabin in the woods. Paul (Harry Treadway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) are the newlyweds on the way from their wedding to this remote cabin. They joke about the spicy Indian curry they had after the wedding in juxtaposition to how exotic it would be to steam up a cottage with no phone or internet connections. There’s that familiarity again, and before we think ‘homicidal maniac lurking in the woods’, Janiak’s story takes a detour down another familiar but eerier path. Kicking off a chain of strange events is the meeting with a local restaurant owner who happens to be Bea’s old friend. There is definitely a hidden past between Bea and her friend but it is her friend’s bizarre wife that triggers Paul’s belief that everything is not as it seems. Soon after, all hell breaks loose when Paul finds Bea roaming naked in the woods. More discomforting is the fact that Bea can’t recall what she was doing in the woods or the mutilated marks on her body or worse – her increasing physical and emotional detachment from her husband.

With love and lust turning into agonizing despair, Paul’s frantic efforts to get his wife back leads to a paranormal conclusion but one that Janiak should have kept hidden until the very end. Instead, the shroud is pulled away quite early in the story, only to reveal an encounter with the third kind. Even before the film reaches its first half you could be thinking Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Rosemary’s Baby. Where those films succeeded in masking antagonism with a deadly secret, Janiak’s tide turning craftsmanship runs deeper by asking how well we know the people we love and care about. In this case it is the transition of a beautiful and dutiful bride into her husband’s worst nightmare; all within the first days of marriage. British actors Treadway and Leslie pull this off with conviction despite faltering American accents. Their newlyweds are all lovey-dovey in the beginning, and then incoherence seeps in like the disconcerting effect of a slow working poison. Not only is Paul deprived of carnal pleasures during their first days as man and wife, he is now left figuring out who or what his wife is becoming. For the viewer, it’s going to take as much guess work in estimating Bea’s capabilities as a bride…or something else.

If you overlook the moderate level of predictability, Janiak can be credited with creating a warm and mushy wedding portrait before developing the story into a terrifying scenario that manifests a nerve wrecking feeling that something is not quite right. Even after bearing the brunt of some disturbing scenes, the viewer is left with little choice because right till the end I kept asking myself – is she or isn’t she, and will she or won’t she? And even if you see the outcome earlier on, you still have to endure a creepy, disturbing and chocking sense of paranoia, which as it turns out, makes Honeymoon an impressive little indie horror film despite a less than satisfactory conclusion.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.