Struggling writer Tom (Jim Schubin) and his girlfriend Eve (Chloe Carroll) pretend to be a married couple in order to take part in a 30-day study which will investigate what is commonly referred to as “The Honeymoon Phase”. Tom and Eve will spend the time in a beautifully furnished house provided by the research facility, they will have ample food and supplies for the entire time and they’ll be paid $50,000 at the end of it all.
Tom and Eve are sure they’ve got the whole thing sussed, especially when they spot another couple in the study bickering like mad over a pillow. They’re not like that. They’re more than happy in each other’s company. They’re in love. What could possibly go wrong?
Once the initial set-up is out of the way and the experiment begins, The Honeymoon Phase is primarily a two-hander. Schubin and Carroll make for an interesting couple, the lovey-dovey cosiness of their first few scenes almost immediately giving the way to the feeling that something isn’t quite right as Tom decides to assert his dominance in the bedroom under the assumption that Eve would “like it rough”. O-kay…
In fact, from the very start, when you see Tom talking to camera, you feel something’s a bit off. It’s a tricky performance but Schubin is up to the task, giving Tom just enough pleasant points to gain the benefit of the doubt before his inner, controlling self begins to show through.
It’s not as though we don’t understand what Eve sees in Tom either, as there’s no question he dotes on her, maybe a little too much.
Carroll’s early playing of Eve as deferential and eager to please gives way in satisfying fashion, showing the sparkier, gutsier woman underneath. Also, the decision to use her English accent, with its regional tang, rather than have her play an American, is a nice touch. Tom and Eve transform gradually as the tale develops and a calculated action here, the odd glance there, a loaded line of dialogue elsewhere, all add up to an escalating, unspoken battle of wills.
From here, it’s probably not much of a spoiler to say that the relationship begins to show some hairline fractures which then threaten to turn into serious cracks. A conversation about whether or not they should start a family has lasting and damaging effects. A holographic representative of the facility called The Handler appears every now and then to ask questions but could also be sowing the seeds of suspicion between her test subjects.
Although there’s a mention of how much Eve likes jump scares, employing a fairly minor one to prove the fact, writer/director/co-producer Phillip G. Carroll, Jr. is more interested in creating an air of psychological unease and, to his credit, he mostly succeeds.
The slow-burn of the first half does risk dissipating the tension but the script throws in a couple of timely twists which casts even more doubt on not only the motives of the study but also its participants.
After a gradual build of disquiet and a gradual deterioration of the harmony between Tom and Eve, the last half hour of The Honeymoon Phase goes full bore in terms of horror and the reveal of the study’s endgame shows just how far the science of relationships can be pushed. You might guess what’s been going on, you might not, Either way, it still sets up a tense dilemma and a fine way to round off the movie.
Except the story isn’t quite done with you, throwing in another mind-bending turn and springing a nasty little surprise in the closing moments. To be fair, it’s hinted at much earlier and there are
signposts along the way but given the ordeal the protagonists have been put through over the previous eighty minutes your reaction may be “Oh, not this now!”. I was left thinking how cruel it was so I have to hand it to the filmmakers. When my response is “Fuck this movie!” that should almost never be taken as a sign that I’ve dismissed the whole thing out of hand, it’s an admission on my part that it really got to me.
The Honeymoon Phase is a glossy, high-concept blend of science fiction, relationship drama and fright flick which keeps a tight rein on itself in the first half before unleashing some startling nastiness in the second. Some may prefer a slow drip feed of answers rather than the slew of disclosures in the last twenty minutes but you can’t say there’s no pay off here.
The only truly jarring note for me was the score, swelling and booming over the action when there was nothing more dramatic on screen than, for example, the characters heading into separate rooms. Yes, something sinister may have been about to happen but the accompanying sonic blast didn’t seem entirely appropriate.
In the final analysis, that ending – no, not that ending, that ending – is probably going to be the main talking point. Satisfying? Jarring? I get the feeling it’s going to be divisive. Still, it’s better to be talked about than not be talked about at all, right?
The climax may not stick the landing for everyone but this is still a highly watchable horror/thriller with decent performances and a distinctive style. You may be looking at your other half in a slightly different light straight after this one.