The Honeymoon Phase, 2019.
Directed by Phillip G. Carroll Jr.
Starring François Chau, Tara Westwood, Ione Butler, and Mike Sutton.
Struggling young lovers, Tom and Eve, must endure a 30-day scientific experiment. Room, board, $50,000, and a month alone together in research facility housing. What could possibly go wrong?
Relationship satire can be ripe material for a gamy horror film, as proven so exceptionally by the recent The Invisible Man remake, yet Phillip G. Carroll Jr.’s initially intriguing sci-fi-horror chamber piece doesn’t turn the screws nearly tightly enough to fully satisfy.
Financially struggling couple Tom (Jim Schubin) and Eve (Chloe Carroll) decide to sign up for The Millennium Project, a month-long scientific study of married couples, the completion of which will net each couple a cool $50,000. After lying about their marital status to get approved, the pair find themselves waking up inside a futuristic, isolated “smart home,” where they quickly come to realise that everything isn’t as fortuitous as it seems.
Though it opens with a pointlessly spoilerific, tension-deflating in media res sequence, the first act is nevertheless enticingly ambiguous. Carroll Jr. depicts the early days of the experiment with a seemingly tongue-in-cheek idealism; it’s a glorified paid vacation for Tom and Eve, set to an over-earnest musical score no less. When a Christmas-set scene sees a scantily-clad Eve tell Tom, “Time to unwrap your present,” it’s hard not to laugh at the seemingly self-aware corniness, serving as a wink-wink satire of “perfect” Hollywood romance.
The Honeymoon Phase makes viewers wait a good while for the grim penny to drop, but as Tom and Eve’s utopian seclusion begins to turn weird – defined by an unexpectedly aggressive sexual encounter and a maybe-hallucination of violence – savvy genre fans will probably be able to quickly figure out where the story is going.
Carroll Jr. takes a slow-burn amble towards a finish line that seems inevitable by the mid-way point, slow-bleeding hilariously obvious hints to the film’s pivotal revelation, namely a couple of info-dumps from a holographic scientist character which, of course, conveniently cut off a syllable before they can relay crucial exposition.
As Eve and Tom become increasingly suspicious of both their scenario and one another, it’s clear that the story serves as a microcosm of toxic relationships themselves, the film acting as a travelogue from, indeed, the honeymoon phase through to personal disagreements, gaslighting, and actual physical abuse.
A deliciously savage second-act game of Never Have I Ever sees the film hit a compellingly dishy stride, though soon thereafter act three devolves into a more conventional – and yes, predictable – thriller romp. That the third reel is largely set to a wildly bombastic musical score which would feel more at home in a Christopher Nolan movie suggests any prior self-awareness has basically been defenestrated; at this juncture it devolves into schlock that doesn’t want to admit it’s schlock.
Despite one queasily disturbing moment, the final stretch mostly feels like a foregone conclusion, built on the back of a big reveal many viewers will have figured out in the movie’s opening 15-or-so minutes.
But keeping the film afloat at almost all times is the admirable efforts of its two leads; Chloe Carroll is especially strong as the embattled Eve, making one wish the material had a little more meat on its bones to offer her. Veteran character actor François Chau also shows up briefly as the director of the experiment, and brings his usual stern gravitas to the part.
Though his vision doesn’t fully come together in the end, Carroll Jr. deserves praise for trying to tell a more heightened story on an evidently low budget; the CGI holograms of the experiment’s scientists are relatively chintzy-looking, yet employed sparingly. It elsewhere makes smart use of its minimal locations to create a claustrophobic, boxed-in feel endemic in abusive relationships themselves, even if it disappointingly descends into ho-hum action-schlock in the final segment.
Solid performances clash with surface-level relationship satire in this too-predictable mystery-thriller.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.