Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 at the Movies: Honeymoon

In 1956, Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers contended with the idea that we are all, finally, strangers from one another. 

On the surface, that classic movie concerned an alarming epidemic or outbreak in which family members in a small California town suddenly felt alienated from the important people in their life, including their spouse.

In the end, of course, invading aliens were behind these very legitimate feelings, creating biological “substitutes” for the affected loved ones that lacked emotions and therefore the ability for true intimacy, for true connection

The new horror film Honeymoon (2014) takes that notion of interpersonal alienation and applies it directly to a young, newlywed couple. 

In the film, the delightful and sweet Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) grow more and more alienated from one another because of an outside influence, yet are unable to bridge the increasing gulf between them, despite their good intentions.

This clever horror movie thus meditates on the old belief that after you get married, the person you love “changes.”

In real life, of course, people do change. 

You change too. 

So do circumstances.  

If you work hard at your relationship, it survives when husband or wife (or partner) inevitably "evolves."  

If not, those feelings of isolation and loneliness creep in, gnaw at you, and a happy ending may be impossible.  

Honeymoon  -- which utilizes a horror story to explore this concept -- features only four characters on screen, and limited settings, mainly a cabin in the woods, but thrives nonetheless as an immediate, thought-provoking viewing experience. 

This is so in part because of the strong central performances from Leslie and Treadaway, and in part because director Leigh Janiak stays focused on the important things -- the little, intimate things -- that go into a relationship. 

The film boasts no major set-pieces, though there is one moment involving grotesque physical or practical effects that may have you crawling out of your skin. And Janiak doesn’t feel the need to push or explain the details of her narrative in too much detail. Some aspects of the tale remain commendably ambiguous -- such as the motivation and identity of the invaders -- and the movie is all the stronger for her restraint.  Janiak's discipline and laser-like focus permits Honeymoon’s central metaphor -- the inexplicably “alienated” married couple -- to remain at the forefront of audience thoughts. 

What’s truly remarkable about Honeymoon is that it concerns two people who are in love (and who, over 87 minutes, you will come to love too...), but that -- despite their best efforts -- can’t save their marriage, or each other.

That description probably makes Honeymoon sound unremittingly dark, and yet the film is oddly beautiful and hopeful in its own  unique way.  

Paul and Bea fight for each other to the best of their abilities, and it is that fight, not necessarily the terrifying outcome, which you remember as the screen fades to black.

“Oh my God, who are you?”

Paul (Treadway) and Bea (Leslie) embark on their honeymoon together, shortly after theirwedding ceremony.  They stay at a remote cabin on a beautiful lake, and spend the days boating, fixing meals, and making love. All is well. A happy future awaits them.  Or so it seems.

The only sour note on the trip is the discovery that Bea’s childhood friend Will (Ben Huber) lives nearby and runs the local restaurant with his wife, Annie (Hanna Brown). Paul is jealous because Will and Bea obviously still have a flirtatious connection.

Then one morning at 3:45 am, Paul awakens early to go fishing, but finds that Bea is missing.  He looks desperately for her and ultimately finds her in the woods, naked and shivering. She claims to have been sleep walking, but she is shaken.  And she has never slept-walked before.

Soon Paul is shaken too, because Bea begins to act strangely. She develops difficulty remembering their time together, uses the wrong words, forgets how to make French toast (and coffee), and refuses to make love to Paul. 

At one point, Paul spies on her in the bathroom rehearsing her excuses for not having sex (namely, a headache). He confronts her about her behavior, but she claims to be fine.

Paul grows more and more concerned, as Bea’s behavior grows ever more bizarre. Paul starts to fear that something in the woods that night replaced the love of his life…

“You feel distant. You feel different.”

Honeymoon dwells on the idea that although you think you can know somebody really well, when you get married…all that changes. All bets are off.  

People are so complicated, multi-faceted, and filled with contradictions that it is impossible to know -- to really know -- perhaps, another human being…even one you believe you love. The film commences with the narrative that Paul and Bea consciously share: videotaped stories they tell (on the occasion of their wedding) of their first date.  

This footage is their relationship mythology, and they don't question it, or the intimacy it portends. This is their shared history and the foundation of their life together.  As it grows close, every couple grows its own unique history or story in this fashion, the fairy tale of two lives coming together.

Soon however, we see cracks in that mythology. 

Early in the film for instance, Paul and Bea seem to joke about this very subject (not knowing someone...) when the topic of killing frogs comes up at the lake.  “Oh my god, who are you?” is the question asked of Bea by Paul, and the question rings true of every new marriage.  

As much as you do know about the person you love, there is probably as much you don’t know, and you are taken by surprise, moment by moment, by these additional new shades or behaviors.

Not surprisingly, then, the film deals, substantially, with Paul’s paranoia. First he meets Will, Bea’s old friend, who is clearly still interested in her romantically, and vice-versa. 

And then his new wife shuts down emotionally, and refuses to sleep with him. We have seen in the film, at this juncture, how physically attracted and connected Paul and Bea are. They are young, attractive, and can't keep their hands off of one another. So Bea's sudden "turning off" to Paul is disturbing and hurtful.

Is it because she wants to sleep with Will? 

Is it because, after just a few days of being married, the magic is already gone?  

Or oddly, is it because she has been possessed by some alien force?

These are the questions Paul must ponder, and Bea's strange behavior is anxiety-provoking.

In Honeymoon, there is indeed (I believe...) an alien force involved and it has settled literally and symbolically inside Bea’s vagina. The movie features an intriguing through-line about this fact.

Early on, for example, Paul inadvertently mentions Bea’s "womb," a word-choice that leads to an awkward conversation about having children. It is a conversation that is tense, and which the couple is not yet ready to have.

Not long after that difficult conversation, the alien thing actually takes root in Bea’s insides, occupying her womb, so to speak. By living in that particular spot, the alien has thus usurped Paul’s place inside Bea (as both lover and would-be father to their child). 

And Bea, who was not ready to have a child take over her life, instead sees an alien in her womb doing just that. 

And in one horrifying scene, Paul physically yanks the strange, worm-like creature out of Bea's...interior. But even the removal of this physical obstacle does not bring the duo closer together. 

The problems they share are now much more than sexual in nature.

What I admired so much about Honeymoon is the way that it depicts Paul and Bea as being truly in love, fighting for each other right up until the very end. 

You can make a case that either Paul or Bea has it worse here, but both of them struggle mightily to hold onto the person most dear to them. Bea is invaded, literally, by an alien force, but she holds onto her desire to protect and love Paul, with tragic results.  And Paul has every reason to feel rejected and paranoid, and yet he too fights to the very end to save Bea. 

In a very real sense, you can compare this doomed couple to Dante's Paolo and Francesca, suffering the torments of Hell but never abandoning one another, at least not consciously or willingly.

So Honeymoon is, in fact, a tragic love story.

On one hand, the film is very brutal in terms of the things it subjects Paul and Bea to, and it plays like a literalization of the old trope about what happens to couples after marriage. You know: the honeymoon is over. Oft-times too quickly.

On the other hand, Paul and Bea themselves are carefully-drawn, beautifully-realized characters who hold onto each other for all their worth, and in the face of what is apparently impossible odds.  I guess this too could be considered a metaphor for marriage, or romantic, spousal connection.

To wit: life hurls a lot of shit at us, every day, and the only thing that makes that shit survivable is having someone special to hold your hand and fight for you. 

You win some and you lose some, for sure, but you can face each new day with renewed dedication and strength because of the bond you share with a husband, or a wife, or a partner.  As the film notes, before Paul and Bea got married, they were alone.  "Now they are not."

If you consider Honeymoon a calling card, director Janiak is a talent to watch, equally adept at generating an atmosphere of dread and doom as orchestrating the occasional, electric jump scare. 

It would have been easy to make this film a gross, two-dimensional and even lurid picture about alien abduction. Instead, Honeymoon is about creeping alienation of affection and the unbridgeable distance between even the closest of lovers.  

Those topics are much scarier to think about, right?

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