“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them” – Margaret Atwood...
...Relationships are scary. Terrifying, really. Not always, of course, but usually. There’s a unique element of risk to relationships that isn’t present in most other situations. To enter into one is to lay yourself bare in front of another person, and either they accept you and begin the journey to know you fully or they know you deeper than they ever had a right to. Or, maybe, most terrifying of all, you never really knew them at all.
I’m sure this sounds overly cynical. It is, in a way. But it’s also true, and this terrifying truth of knowing and not knowing is partly what writer/director Phillip G. Carroll Jr’s Honeymoon Phase is all about. That, and the far darker possibility of control.
Tom (Jim Schubin) and Eve (Chloe Carroll) need money. He’s a writer trying to carve his way through his first book, she provides notes and designs the cover for the book’s eventual release. So, when they hear about the Millennium Project’s $50,000 payment for a month-long study where all they have to do is stay in an apartment together and answer some questions about their relationship, they figure it’s easy money. The study is investigating the “honeymoon phase” of marriages—the period of time when everything feels new and full of butterflies, before the reality of life fully sets in and you get into the hard work of being together for life. As such, they agree to pose as a married couple in order to participate and get the money they need to start their lives together. Once accepted into the program, Eve realizes things aren’t quite what they seem.
Honeymoon Phase takes a knife to domestic horror, imagining the subtle fears you might have about your partner when confined with them for an extended period for the first time and making them real. Jim Schubin is uncomfortably good as the artfully manipulative Tom. Less than twenty minutes into the film and I was getting nervous watching the shifts in his face that hinted at barely suppressed rage. Chloe Carroll shines with just as much command in her role as the suspicious Eve, aware of but unable to place the discomforting difference in her partner. Something about him isn’t right, he isn’t quite himself, but she can’t quite prove why or how. Her fear is palpable the deeper she falls into the trap, and the harder she fights for the truth.
Domestic horror is one of the most terrifying subgenres to me. Things like Leigh Whannell’s Invisible Man, where gaslighting and manipulation take a front seat in the story, put me on edge in ways most other subgenres can’t even come close to. They challenge the concept of agency and consent in unique and truly unsettling ways. They also sometimes come the closest to reality. Honeymoon Phase falls firmly into the territory of domestic horror weaponizing consent and is all the more terrifying for it. This film is steeped in the idea of men manipulating women for their benefit. Tom throws any consideration for Eve’s consent regarding her body pretty quickly out the window. Her first hint that something is off about him, in fact, comes from their very first night together. This man she’s known intimately for so long has suddenly changed tactics—the sex is far rougher than his usual approach and it’s over before she can fully voice her discomfort with the situation. She shrugs it off when he asks her about it, saying it’s different than he normally is but it’s no big deal, really, it’s fine. But we can see in her face this is the first major red flag, and one she isn’t likely to forget.
Part of the terror of this film is its time span, both in terms of runtime and story-time. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, it feels a little suffocating once things pick up and the experiment begins. I’m not sure how quickly we’re meant to pick up on something being wrong about Tom but suffice it to say the quicker you pick up on it the more dread-filled the film becomes. What should be a brisk movie is enveloping, dripping like sludge onto our nerves. We want more than anything for Eve to realize what’s going on and get the hell out of dodge. In story-time, the experiment only lasts for a month. A month. One. But the deeper we get into the film the more we feel Eve’s sense of suffocating fear, and the longer it feels. Eventually I even forgot how long they’d been there until someone mentioned it. At the climax of the film they still have six days left together. Six days left in a month-long experiment. How oppressive that must, and does feel, even for us as viewers.
I don’t want to spoil the twists or the end, so I haven’t gone too deeply into plot. But rest assured, Honeymoon Phase is a sharp and brilliant offering in the domestic horror genre, even in the moments it gets hard to watch. Maybe not for the faint of heart, but certainly worth the time.
Honeymoon Phase comes to VOD from Dark Sky Films on August 21st.
By Katelyn Nelson
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