Friday, April 3, 2015

Honeymoon: In Sickness And In Health

One of the earliest horror movies I can remember watching as a child was 1958’s I Married A Monster From Outer Space. No real surprises here: There’s a woman, she marries a man, he turns out to be an alien in disguise, and his intentions aren’t good. The title tells you exactly what you need to know. And movies like this aren’t just a product of the quaint Fifties, they’re still getting made today. We just tend not to think of them as horror movies, because by and large, “the person I just married turns out to be evil” stories show up primarily on Lifetime, where they alternate with “someone is having an affair and it’s causing problems” movies and “I want my kids back” movies. 

But if you want to talk about horror movies as allegory for real-life anxieties (as some do), the uncertainty that comes with the realization that you’ve just committed to a life with another person is definitely in the wheelhouse. That sort of commitment is rife with second-guessing, and what better way to cathart that than a film where the new bride or groom literally becomes a monster?

So I’m really glad that these filmmakers made Honeymoon, because it’s a creepy and masterfully paced story that turns all the awkwardness of a new marriage into a nightmare, restoring the “my spouse is a monster” riff firmly to horror film.

Paul and Bea are just married, and they’re headed into upstate New York to stay at the summer cottage Bea’s family own for their honeymoon. The opening of the film alternates their drive there with scenes from their wedding video - Bea recounting the proposal and marveling at her new status, Paul recounting their disastrous first date and the failed camping trip that ended up being the proposal, the two of them being adorable at each other. And all seems well enough - they’re sort of on the irritating side of cutesy, but it’s to be expected of a young couple flush with newly affirmed love and a life together ahead of them. There’s banter, talk of the future, heroic amounts of sex, all of what you’d expect. And then, in the middle of the night, Paul awakes to find the other side of the bed empty. Bea is initially nowhere to be found, and with mounting dismay, Paul heads outside into the woods, where he eventually finds Bea standing naked in a clearing, insensate to the world.

It’s weird, she’s not normally a sleepwalker, this is the first time this has happened. She doesn’t know where her nightgown went, she can’t remember what happened...

...and she doesn’t know what those strange marks on her thighs are. Or why she’s starting to have trouble remembering things. Or why she doesn’t want Paul to touch her anymore.

Right in front of Paul, Bea becomes a very different woman from the one with whom he fell in love, from the one he thought he married. Of course, every new couple has those moments where they wonder who it is they've married - there's this sort of threshold that you cross, however ineffable, where you realize that however well you thought you knew this person, they can still surprise you in good and bad ways, and it's not always where and how you'd expect. So we see Bea and Paul on their honeymoon, and you can tell they're a couple - they've got their little in-jokes, their private language, the shared memories based on hours of conversation, all of that. But even so, Paul's errant crack about her "womb" after some especially vigorous marital sex gets Bea sort of twitchy over the idea of kids and motherhood. It's the kind of tense moment any newlywed couple is going to have, as the reality of a future together sinks in, that yes, now you have to confront these possibilities. What this film does well is it starts at that moment of uncertainty, when Paul and Bea are on that cusp between the couple they were before and the marriage they are now, and just starting to explore what that means, and then proceeds to erase everything either one of them knew, a bit at a time, until it becomes clear that something awful has happened. Bea starts acting strangely, having trouble with increasingly basic things, and in some ways this is a metaphor for how a married couple has to renegotiate life together - they have to learn this new way of being together, and Paul is frightened, she's no longer the Bea he knew, and as the film goes on, the implications of that get darker and darker and darker.

This gradually unfolding horror works because the pacing is excellent. It starts maybe a bit on the slow side, with lots of time spent on Paul and Bea frolicking in the woods, but when things start to go bad, it's just a bit at a time, a little thing here, a little thing there, all adding and building on each other in a slow ratcheting up of tension that doesn't really ease up as it moves through possible explanations for what's going on, so by the time the truth is revealed, you don't really have any outs. It begins idyllic, then notes of unease creep in, and the unease gives way to tension and distance between the newlyweds, and then the tension turns to paranoia, and the paranoia to terror, all without a hitch

It's a story told with minimal music, lots of quick cuts, almost dividing the first half or so of the movie into vignettes, with this shifting to longer scenes as things escalate. Lots of moments of stillness and nature in repose - ants, worms, caterpillars, the almost alien life of the forest, scuttling around us all the time and going barely noticed. Impressively, it really feels like a folie a deux almost, as even though things seem to be centered on Bea, Paul hardly remains a model of reason himself as he sees everything he thought he knew about the woman he loved slip through his fingers just as things were going to get good.. There's an interpersonal disintegration dynamic then that adds some real notes of sadness to the tension and the dread. In some ways, this film sort of reminds me of kind of a mirror image of Antichrist - in both, a couple heads into the woods, but here it is to celebrate a beginning rather than to cope with an end. This is a story of promise, not loss, but the outcomes are similar - all sorts of horrible things are waiting in the woods, and in the end, there is nothing that male rationality can do about them.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Cliff,
    I only just discovered your site but I have a feeling I will be hanging out here more often. Anyway, I watched this film a few weeks ago and thought it was reasonably good. I agree with all the points you made in your post, however, the thing that ruined it for me was the characters. I found Paul and Bea to be intolerably lame and childish at times. The flirting and talking cute and their in-jokes proved to be rather cringe worthy for me. I understand that they needed to establish their relationship as new and exciting but I found myself unable to identify with and relate to these two.
    Did you have a similar response?

    Cheers,
    Rob-Wilson

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    1. Hi Rob,

      I can see where you're coming from, but it didn't bother me that much within the context of the movie - yeah, they were annoying, but they were annoying in a way I'd expect from a newly-minted young married couple. They were plausibly annoying, and that makes all the difference to me.

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