Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Korg 70,000 BC: "The Moving Rock"

In “The Moving Rock,” Korg (Jim Malinda) and his family abandon their home cave because of poor hunting, and search the land beyond their own.

Unexpectedly, the group comes across an ocean. The Neanderthals have never seen anything like it and feel “as if they have suddenly come to the end of the Earth.”

Unfortunately, Mara (Naomi Pollock) gets her foot caught between rocks in the surf.  If Korg and the others cannot free her, she will die as the tide comes in…

“The Moving Rock” is a visually appealing episode of Korg 70,000 BC. Some episodes of the Hanna Barbera series look like they are filmed in comfy, green Southern California, and other episodes stake ground in overly familiar territory such as Vasquez Rocks.  

But this episode takes the family Korg to a new location, a legitimately prehistoric-looking shore line. It’s a fun and different, and a good change of pace.

Although Korg 70,000 BC has some real issues with continuity (especially in upcoming episodes…), here there’s even a call-back to the first episode, “Trapped.”  There, as you may recall, the family learned how to use a stick as leverage, while moving rocks from a cave-in.  Here, Korg remembers that event, and uses a lever to free Mara from peril. 

The continuing through line of the series, uniquely, does seem to concern the idea that when humans (or Neanderthals) possess no real knowledge or understanding of the world, they turn to religion and fearsome images of “angry” Gods to explain things. Here, Mara worries that she has somehow offended the Spirit of the Water, and that the ocean is a living thing.  As I've noted before, believing in an angry Deity not only explains why bad things happen, it allows one to put one's self at the center of the universe.  Oh, this must be my fault...

The episode’s final touch sees the Korg family learning that salt (from the salt water) can make meat more palatable, but the real story here is the visualization of the action.  The authentic locations (and good, picturesque long shots), go a long way towards making this episode a memorable one.

Next week: “The Beach People.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: BraveStarr: "The Good, the Bad and the Clumsy"

In the BraveStarr episode “The Good, the Bad and the Clumsy,” Fuzz is training a robot dog when Billy the Droid -- the most wanted criminal in the galaxy -- robs the Fort Kerium Bank.

BraveStarr, Thirty-Thirty and Fuzz intervene during the unfolding of the crime, but Fuzz is held hostage by Billy the Droid, and the criminal is able to escape custody. 

Embarrassed by the situation, the little Prairie Person determines to bring the villain to justice…and he must also deal with Skuzz, who is also Billy the Droid’s captive...

“The Good, the Bad, and the Clumsy” -- besides being named after a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western -- is an episode all about the fact that Buzz loses his “confidence” after being held hostage by a criminal. And, in the final analysis, he’s the only one who can restore it. 

As BraveStarr notes “sometimes words aren’t enough.” The good marshal remembers a kayaking trip from his youth in which the Shaman showed him trust, in particular. He allowed him to navigate the kayak through choppy waters as a demonstration of his confidence in the boy.

That’s a nice message to convey to the kiddies (and this is a kid’s show), but once more, too much Fuzz and Skuzz gums up the works. 

 Both Fuzz and the other Prairie people add an element of camp, or juvenalia to the proceedings, and it becomes difficult to take the universe of BraveStarr seriously. 

The characters look silly. They sound silly.  And they act silly. 

No self-respecting kid wants to be stuck in a story with these characters a moment more than necessary. There's so much that is interesting about BraveStarr's world, both in terms of the visualizations and the universe itself. It seems a shame that so many stories focus on these goofy sidekick characters.

The terribly-named Billy the Droid is not really a great villain, either. He has a robot body, a humanoid face, and a weird tentacle with metal claw that shoots out of his torso.  If he’s a droid, who built him, and why? 

Billy the Cyborg -- the survivor of one too many gunfights perhaps -- might have been a better designation for him.

Next week: “Wild Child.”

Friday, December 26, 2014

From the Archive: Saturn 3 (1980)

Stanley Donen's Saturn 3 is a half-crazy, occasionally-inspired mating of Frankenstein and 2001: A Space that plays out between three humans and a giant robot against a high-tech, futuristic backdrop.

Taken on those simple terms, the film is enjoyable, literary, occasionally exciting, and consistently watchable, despite all the bad reviews you may recall from its theatrical release.

Saturn 3 depicts the the story of the psychotic Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel), a scientist who travels to the Experimental Food Research Station on Saturn 3 during a twenty-two day eclipse and communications black-out called "Shadow Lock."

There, the good captain provides "assistance" to two scientists working to alleviate a famine on our overpopulated, polluted planet Earth. Major Adam (Kirk Douglas) and his young romantic partner, the beautiful and innocent Alex (Fawcett) are wary, however, of Benson's form of help: a colossal humanoid robot named Hector, the first of the "Demi God" series. Hector boasts human intelligence (not to mention human brain tissue...) and can even pattern his personality on the direct input he receives from human beings. Since Benson is psychotic, this means that Hector is also psychotic. In short order, the robot begins to develop the same lustful feelings for lovely Alex that Benson has rudely begun to demonstrate...

Named after the Trojan Prince beaten by Achilles outside the walls of Troy, the robot Hector represents Saturn 3's embodiment of the classic Frankenstein Monster, a lumbering abomination given life by a Prometheus-style scientist, here essayed by the over-dubbed (but still creepy...) Harvey Keitel.

Hector has been created, it seems, to glorify Benson; to prove to skeptical (and off-screen) co-workers that he is a genius. As is the case in Victor Frankenstein's tragedy, there's a high degree of vanity involved in the genesis of this new life. As Victor sought to "bestow animation" upon "lifeless matter," so does Benson seek to introduce intelligence and even "human learning" to cold machinery. And again like Victor, Benson pioneers a "new way," or new science to achieve his aims. Though he is not technically breaching "the awful boundary between life and death" that Shelley artfully described, Benson is breaching the barrier between man and machine.

Hector's biology also merits comparison to the Frankenstein Monster. This Demi-God class robot is a collection of metallic spare parts and pure brain tissue grown in a lab, not organic corpse parts given life.But much like the Frankenstein Monster, Hector boasts the interesting (and unusual...) combination of a fully formed (or adult) physicality with a naive, almost child-like sense of intelligence. And, as the Frankenstein Monster quickly determines, it is "miserably alone," and seeks companionship. 

Interestingly, Hector seeks companionship too...sexual companionship with Alex.

In both stories, the "child" (the monster) turns on the Bad Father, the Creator. In the case of Frankenstein, the rejected/unwanted child draws out the process of killing the parent ("I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart so that you shall curse the hour of your birth...") In Saturn 3, Hector quickly kills Benson and turns his attention towards dominating Alex, a subtle acknowledgment, perhaps of a more sexually-liberated culture in the 1980s.

Going back to 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey, one might also be temped to gaze upon Hector as HAL's child: a computer with a menacing, ambulatory physicality to go along with the parent's cold, calculating brain. 

In the Kubrick film, however, one never knows why HAL goes insane and murders the crew of the Discovery.The reasons for Hector's instability are plain in Saturn 3, and they reflect the Frankenstein story again. Benson, like Victor, is a bad father. One who, through his own intrinsic psychological flaws, overreached and was not able to handle the role of parent. And in this case, the son has inherited the father's psychosis.

Saturn 3 also fascinates in the manner it re-purposes the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. In the Old Testament, God created Adam and Eve and provided them a glorious Paradise in Eden. This couple wanted for nothing until a serpent invaded the Garden and tantalized Eve with the apple from the Tree of Knowledge.

This simple story is re-cast in explicitly technological (and secular, scientific...) terms in Saturn 3 with a character named, of course, Adam dwelling in isolated bliss with his lover, Alex. Their facility is an Experimental Food Research Station featuring an abundance of greenery, a hydroponics bay that could easily be interpreted as...a "garden."

The film also defines the lives of Adam and Alex as ones of unending bliss. Their facility is like a health spa. They exercise regularly, jogging the curving, empty corridors. They live in love and peace, sheltered away from the modern, polluted world. Alex is a total innocent, never having visited Earth and knowing nothing of its customs.

Into this paradise arrives the Serpent (or Serpents, in this case) -- Hector and Benson. It is not the apple that Benson offers Alex, but lustful sex and recreational drugs, the latter in the form of psychedelic "Blue Dreamers." He awakes in Alex, at the very least, the realization that she has lived a sheltered life. He spawns in Alex a desire to see Earth, which Adam also encourages.

In the coda of Saturn 3, following Adam's sacrifice to defeat Hector, Alex leaves the sealed-up paradise, boards a spaceship and heads for Earth. The Garden is left behind permamently. Alex has tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge and now returns to the world of fallen man.

There's a nice, commendable simplicity to the narrative of Saturn 3. Against the plainly mythological and literary backdrops, there are but few characters and locations. The movie cleverly isolates its dramatis personae in a trap within a trap within a trap. They're in a hermetically sealed facility on an inhospitable planet during an eclipse. 

Thus -- again like their Biblical counterparts -- Adam and Alex are really in a sort of "bubble world." The outside world doesn't exist for them, and that means there is no chance of a rescue operation. The future of man (and machine...), it seems, is to be settled here, in this place, with just these few people and their values.

Hector also makes for a powerful, memorable villain. Although he apparently lacks human genitals, Hector has been (inadvertently) programmed with a physical lust for Alex, making him one of the screen's most memorably randy robots (though probably nobody can give Demon Seed's Proteus a real run for his money...). Hector is a murderous child, a sadist, and entirely malicious. At least with the Frankenstein Monster, you felt some sense of compassion. He was "malicious" because he was "miserable." Hector is somehow...colder.

The sets, special effects and costumes in Saturn 3 are all top-notch too, at least for 1980 vintage. And then, of course, there's the late Farrah Fawcett in a central performance: effortlessly exuding innocence and sexiness at the same time.As in her other roles, there was a winsome and fetching quality to Fawcett. Saturn 3 makes fine use of her naturalness, her seeming sin-lessness, even as it exploits her amazing good looks.

Perhaps the aspect of Saturn 3 that I enjoy most involves Adam's journey, however, not Alex's. 

Adam deeply fears contamination from the outside (from Earth). He has thus set up a utopia on Saturn 3, a perfect little existence. While Earth starves, he possesses plenty of food. While lust and casual sex dominate among Earthers far away, Adam has found a perfect, innocent mate who truly loves him. He has attained the goal of intimacy.

But when Hector and Benson arrive, they bring "the tree of knowledge" with them. On Earth, Adam would have feared being at the mercy of society, of the government, of his peers. Well, suddenly, in his perfect world, he is at the mercy of Hector, a psychotic who can control every aspect of his environment. Hector controls the air, the food supply, the temperature...everything. Adam is thus made slave to the very technology he has always feared and disdained, and that's a metaphor for the life he fled: one of regimented control where he was but a cog in the wheel. Perhaps that is the reason why Adam chooses to fight Hector to the death, because like Alex, he too has been ejected from paradise by the arrival of this interloper.

Saturn 3 even closes with a commendable message: that it is the capacity for self-sacrifice that ultimately separates a human soul from artificial intelligence. Hopefully, that's the message that Alex takes back to Earth and preaches. That mankind -- in his ability to put the welfare of those he loves before his own life -- can conquer the machines, overpopulation, lust and the other bugaboos that threaten to destroy a species in perpetual crisis.

With DNA culled from the Old Testament, the work of Mary Shelley and even Stanley Kubrick, Donen's somewhat silly Saturn 3 sure has a "great body." 

May I (respectfully...) use it?

Movie Trailer: Saturn 3 (1980)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Joel's Holiday Haul

Merry Christmas morning! 

Everyone here at the Muir house was up at 5:45 am, and the unwrapping of presents went at warp speed.  Below is a sampling of Joel's 2014 haul. At 8 years old he is a budding movie-maker (we are still editing his horror film from Thanksgiving...).

I hope Santa was good to each and every one of you!

Merry Christmas!

Here's hoping your holiday season is filled with good cheer, Christmas carols,, mad scientists, robots, and tons of bad movies....

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

All I Want for Christmas Countdown #1: Shogun Warriors/Godzilla (1978; Mattel)

2014 at the Movies: The Babadook

[Beware of Spoilers]

Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) accomplishes for motherhood what Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) did for fatherhood.  

It’s an unromantic, dark and yet ruthlessly honest horror film that is certain to ignite controversy in some quarters for its point-of-view that  motherhood -- though sometimes “wondrous” -- can prove physically and mentally “treacherous,” to quote from The Babadook’s monologue about magic.

Specifically, the low-budget, Australian horror film may not truly concern an imaginary, childhood monster come to life (the titular Babadook) but rather the monsters of exhaustion, fatigue and anxiety that accompany the raising of a young child, especially without the help of a spouse or fellow parent.

The Babadook expressively captures the sheer relentlessness of such child-rearing -- the endless nuts-and -bolts of day-to-day mothering -- with a color-drained, ash-gray visual palette, forays into fast-motion life passing before your eyes, and instances of dedicated visual symbolism.

Accordingly, director Kent makes you feel like you are right there in the trenches with the film’s mother, Amelia, as she contends with an uncaring support system on the job, at her son’s school, and even within her own family. She has nowhere to turn for help, no escape valve, and that is the brand of psychic anxiety that never goes away, never fully dissipates.

The film’s greatest strength, perhaps, is its (compassionate) ability to put the viewing audience in Amelia’s shoes as she lurches from one crisis to another, all while getting less and less sleep. The Babadook makes motherhood look like a gauntlet -- a mine-field -- even without the presence of a Nosferatu-like menace in the mix.

Many of the special effects in the film are accomplished old-school, with very little apparently done in terms of CGI. Some effects, in the last half, are executed clumsily, and don’t quite garner the hoped-for effect.  Horror fans should also be wary of the hype calling the film, essentially, the scariest movie ever, because The Babadook is more psychologically unnerving than traditionally scary, and the film won't benefit from the wrong kind of expectations being raised.

But beyond such minor quibbles, The Babadook is certainly one of the most confident, clever and cerebral horror films of the year. 

 “I’ll soon take off my funny disguise…”

Amelia (Essie Davis) has raised her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) from birth with virtually no help. Her husband, Oscar, died in a car crash while driving her to the hospital on the day of the child’s birth.

Now -- six years later -- Amelia holds down a job in a dreary hospital (in the dementia ward…), visits occasionally with her judgmental sister, Claire (Hayley McElhinney), and struggles to survive each day with Sam, who has been showing signs of increased aggression and anxiety. He also suffers from bad dreams.

One night, Sam asks Amelia to read from a red children’s book, Mister Babadook that has appeared mysteriously on his book-shelf. 

The book tells of a night-time visitor to a child’s bedroom, a monster in a top-hat whose hideous outward appearance is surpassed only by the terrifying identity underneath his cloak.

If you see that identity…you die.

Samuel is disturbed by the book’s imagery, and by the fact that it states “once seen, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”

Amelia attempts to dispose of the creepy text, but the book keeps re-appearing, even after she rips its pages up.

Soon, the book returns anew, with a newly written ending which tells Amelia that the more she denies the Babadook’s existence, the stronger it will grow. 

Finally, the book reveals to Amelia horrible pop-up imagery of a woman going mad, killing those she loves, and eventually herself…

“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook…”

The Babadook paints motherhood as, essentially, an unending marathon. 

Amelia works all day, puts out the fires Samuel starts in school, and then must get the high-strung (though loving…) boy to bed each night.  He rarely sleeps much at all, and Amelia grows more and more tired dealing with his particular set of problems.

Director Kent expresses the repetitive grind of Amelia’s life in visceral terms, and with effective imagery.  When Amelia finally does get to sleep, the night actually “fast forwards,” meaning that it ends in a blink.  Amelia has hardly closed her eyes before daylight shines in her window.  Twice in the film, this night-time fast forward occurs, revealing how for Amelia there is no time to relax, no time to catch-up. She goes to sleep, and before she knows it, it is time to start the grind all over again.

At another juncture in The Babadook, Amelia orchestrates a game of Bingo at the old folks’ hospital where she works, and we get another symbol of her plight, of her unhappy life.  She mindlessly pulls a handle on the bingo machine or cage, and inside it the balls pop and sputter but go nowhere as the circular enclosure spins and spins. This is how Amelia feels, or perhaps sees the world. She jumps up and down, turning and spinning, but never actually goes anywhere as life seems to pass her by.

The poor woman is even denied the pleasure of masturbating in peace (and to climax…) and so the film’s slate-gray production design telegraphs a trenchant point about Amelia’s world view.  She finds no joy or pleasure -- no color -- in anything she does. There is no bright spot to her days, no time to relax, and certainly no time, even, for herself or her basic needs.  The gray is ubiquitous.

By contrast, Claire’s house (and the playhouse in her backyard) are seen in shades of bright immaculate white, suggesting that her existence is light and bright in comparison to Amelia’s drudgery and difficulties.

Crucially, the interior of the Mister Babadook book is also all gray…penned in various shades of charcoal ash. It has been conceived and illustrated in a world without hope (despite the promise of the scarlet cover…), and that provides us one key, I believe, to who, precisely, penned the mysterious book.

For Amelia then, gray is the color of her world.  Everything has come down to drudgery and routine in the management of Samuel. She gets him to school, picks up him from school, feeds him dinner, and then tries to get him to bed.  Then she has to check in his wardrobe/closet, and under his bed for monsters. 

Because Samuel has a lot of bad dreams about monsters. 

This is so because he lives in a world without answers. He has no father, but Amelia will tell him nothing about how he lost his dad, or why he shouldn’t fear losing his mother too. He is lost and adrift, and therefore highly susceptible to the monster under the bed.

Kent establishes Amelia’s difficult life brilliantly and confidently, and we get a long, hard look at the woman’s anxieties and fears. She is afraid not merely of failing Sam, but of spending the rest of her years just like this, alone in a world without pleasure, color or hope.

Again, Kent makes the point highly impactful with her selection of visuals. Amelia gazes out across her kitchen window and sees the kindly old neighbor, Mrs. Roach (Barbara West), living a life alone in the house across the way.  The old woman sits slouched in a big chair, watching the television without the comfort of a husband or family of any kind.

This is what Amelia could become, she fears, if she can’t break out of the relentless rut of her home-life. 

At one crucial point, Amelia spies a figure -- the Babadook -- behind Mrs. Roach, and the visual implication is that he has manifested there because Mrs. Roach is an avatar for Amelia’s anxieties. 

The monster is from Amelia’s Id.

Even more tellingly, perhaps, Amelia suffers a plague of bugs in her kitchen at one point. Cockroaches spill out of the walls, dirtying everything. There’s a connection here, as you have guessed: Mrs. Roach and a swarm of roaches.  They are two manifestations of the same fear: that the overwhelming work of Amelia’s life is threatening to consume her, to spread out and leave nothing behind but a spoiled, used-up husk.

Why does this portrait of exhaustion and anxiety resonate?

If you have ever cared for a young child, you understand.  I love my eight year old son, Joel, deeply, as Amelia surely loves her boy, Samuel.

And yet I remember a time before he was one, when he had terrible acid reflux. Every day, just as the sun went down, Joel would start to cry, and the only way to make him feel better was to walk him and up and down the staircase, sometimes for three or four hours at a spell. Kathryn and I would tag team the job, but that didn’t necessarily make it easier, especially since he would wake up for crying spells several times a night as well.  I remember sitting in his room, trying to put him to sleep, for what felt like hours. Sometimes, I feared I would lose my mind…or my temper.

After a few weeks of this routine, Kathryn and I began to dread sundown -- the losing of the light -- because we knew Joel would be in pain, and we understood the physical effort, as well, it would take to placate and soothe him.  In these dark moments, you start to contemplate crazy things. And the more tired you get, the crazier those ruminations become.

The Babadook dwells for its ninety-minute run of that fear of night falling, of that insanity that seems to fall like a shroud with the onset of moonlight.

At night, we should be sleeping. We should be resting. But parents of young children don’t necessarily get to do that. Instead, the night becomes a waking nightmare -- or marathon -- in which you must not only stay awake, but be attentive, and loving. 

I’ll be honest: I had Kathryn to share the job with, and I still nearly cracked a few times.  In The Babadook, Amelia does crack.  Not because she doesn’t love Samuel. Not because she is a bad mother.  But because, at some point, the body can no longer endure the lack of sleep, the fatigue, or the repetitive nature of parenting duties.

The Babadook proves so effective because so many parents have been where Amelia is, but -- through the grace of God (and the help of a loving support system) -- they have have made it through with little or no real damage. Amelia has no such support system, and the results are catastrophic. Her gray life, her perpetual exhaustion, either manifests or lets in something…evil.

The Babadook’s big question concerns that monster.

Is it real?

Or has Amelia (Davis), experienced a psychotic break from reality stemming from the grievous loss of her husband, Oscar, and the exhaustion of maintaining a job and taking care of difficult Samuel?

This question is the heart of the film, and The Babadook is one of the few horror films I can remember or pinpoint that suggests the (realistic) idea that emotional strife (or even mental illness) is not something you can “get rid of,” but rather something that you must live with every day, and that such an accommodation with “the monster,” is, actually, possible. 

The enemy is not the monster itself, but denial: the burying of secrets and pain under a cloak of normalcy.  The monster can be lived with, if faced, acknowledged, and “fed” on a daily basis, The Babadook suggests, if not destroyed.

The Babadook is an affecting horror movie not only because Kent has so clearly thought through the anxieties and difficulties of motherhood and found ways of expressing them in terms of the visuals, but because Davis gives a sympathetic, three-dimensional performance. You may get angry at Amelia while watching the film, but you are always on her side. You always want her to beat the Babadook. 

At one point Amelia becomes the very thing she sees on a weird old cartoon in the middle of the night: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That’s what all parents (mothers and fathers) can become if they are pushed beyond the breaking point.

The Babadook has earned glowing reviews from critics across the board, and rightfully so given its cerebral, emotional, and visceral nature. Some very jaded fans, however, will not be satisfied, I believe, with how the story ends, and with some of the pyrotechnics or special effects.  Some effects are lingered on a little too long, thus exposing the in-camera gimmickry behind them. And some will ultimately be disappointed at what is seen (or not seen) under the Babadook’s cloak and hat.

Without second guessing anyone else’s reaction, The Babadook remains the best kind of horror movie: one that can be seen and understood in two ways simultaneously.

In one reading, the monster is a horrible thing from a children’s book.

And in the other, the monster is a horrible thing inside us, waiting to spill out -- like black bile -- where we are weakest: in grief, or in exhaustion.

Finally, however, I would pick the latter reading.  I believe that Amelia is the source not only of the monster we see in the film, but the mysterious book itself.  Pay close attention to the dialogue at a birthday party.  Amelia reveals that before her husband died, she was a writer, and that in addition to articles for periodicals, she wrote some things for children. Therefore, The Mister Babadook book may be her creation.

Similarly, note how the words “the boy” are utilized by various individuals in the story, and the way that Amelia reacts to the term each time it is used.  She takes great offense at it, when it is spoken by school principals and monsters from her own id.

Regardless of how you choose to interpret the film, The Babadook is a horror movie that resonates in the imagination and will trouble your slumber. It's scarier, almost, in the possibilities and ideas it raises than in the traditional "jump scare" mode that many of us expect.

So even if you consciously try to deny its overall psychic power, you can’t rid of the imagery and ideas depicted in The Babadook.

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?