Monday, April 12, 2021

The Sorta Newlywed Game


Continuing the accidental marathon of recent-but-pre-pandemic-films-that-all-too-well-apply-to-the-pandemic-era, here's a mangled love story fitting for our times!

Quick Plot: Eve and Tom are a happily engaged young couple with finance woes. British Eve is still waiting on her American visa, while Tom is determined to make it as a novelist (cue my gag here). 

Eve comes across a classified ad that is naturally too good to be true: a psychological institute is looking for newlyweds to take part in a month-long study for a grand payment of $50K. The goal is to disseminate the titular honeymoon phase, and to learn exactly what it is that turns once-amorous couples into bitter divorcees. 

Faking a month-long marriage, the Jacobs are moved into a high-tech apartment where their only communication to the outside world comes in the form of their hologram study check-ins. They can request anything they need to be instantly deposited in their kitchen (think Alexa meets those cool bank teller drive-thru depositories). Eve figures it will give Tom the perfect opportunity to write that novel (cue my stifled laughter) and they're off to a nice start. 

Or are they? Upon their first round at sex in their new setup, Eve is shaken by Tom's unusually aggressive style. He's not writing (obviously) and worst of all, seems to be newly obsessed with having a baby. 

After taking LSD one night, Eve witnesses an older participating couple in an act of violence. Tom sees nothing, nor does the study's director or any of his cameras. Was it just a bad trip, or have the gaslights been primed?

The Honeymoon Phase is the feature debut of writer/director Phillip G. Carroll Jr. and was apparently filmed on a shoestring budget with some intrepid use of Airbnb. On that note, it's incredibly impressive. While the limitations show their head a bit when the action moves outside its primary setting, The Honeymoon Phase is sharply put together, both in its visuals and performances. 

I wish I could say the same about the story, which has grand ambitions but feels a bit muddled, particularly in its rushed final act. Watching The Honeymoon Phase, it was hard to not think about Vivarium, my favorite new film of last year (and one also streaming on Amazon). It's also a tale of a young, happy but not yet experienced couple trapped in a home designed to meet their basic needs, but one clearly after a far more sinister agenda.

I don't think The Honeymoon Phase reaches the bar Vivarium set, but it makes for an interesting pairing, and one appropriately fit for our seemingly endless pandemic quarantine. There's a lot to be explored in the nature of millennial relationships, with power dynamics quite different than they were in older generations. Eve serves as our point of view, but Carroll does play with her reliability. There's always the chance that everything is operating exactly as it should.

I didn't love The Honeymoon Phase, and I doubt I'll revisit it anytime soon, but it certainly held my attention and felt extremely fresh (even if I was a tad distracted thinking of somewhat similar films). I wish the screenplay had another draft or two, and I don't know that I loved where it left me, but it was successful for what it was. 

High Points
Any woman can tell you that no words are more offensive and dismissive than "calm down," and The Honeymoon Phase subtly uses things to s to growing effect

Low Points
I can forgive budgetary challenges that made The Honeymoon Phase's climax a bit, well, anticlimactic, but the explanation surrounding the reveal AND the coda left me feeling pretty unsatisfied, which is never a good way to walk away from a film

Lessons Learned
The more closeups of a crimson curling iron, the stronger the payoff for said crimson curling iron being used in an act of violence

Wannabe writers who want to be writers just to say they're writers will always find excuses not to write

If the psychologist in charge of the Dharma Initiative is the guy running your experiment, consider reading the fine print 

In the realm of low budget, minimalist sci-fi horror, The Honeymoon Phase is something new. There are more accomplished tellings of this out there (the aforementioned Vivarium, for one), but there's plenty to pull out of this one. Give it a spin. 

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