Tom and Eve are a financially struggling couple with big dreams. The Millennium Project is dedicated to demystifying the deterioration of wedded bliss and is offering fifty grand to any husband and wife willing to have their relationship intimately scrutinised.
Supremely confident in the durability of their affections, they lie about being married, create a mutually agreed safeword, and sign up to live in a hermetically sealed smart home for one month.
After a swift and highly dubious induction process, the pair awake to find themselves decked out in barcoded future tunics with a holographic ‘handler’ for guidance and a pneumatic tube delivery system of dreams.
At first, the experiment flys by with only Tom’s decline in sexual prowess as a clue to the impending traumas. However, on day 11 Eve breaks out the cookies she has smuggled in, with LSD where the chocolate chips should be. The brain-scrambling bad trip that ensues proves a catalyst that fractures the delusive facade and so begins a truly horrific game of god-tier gaslighting.
It comes as no surprise that The Honeymoon Phase is the creative baby of a real-life newlywed couple. Director Phillip G. Carroll Jr. and his lead actress/producer wife, Chloe, have fused their respective loves of drama and horror to fashion a savvy and surprisingly savage portrait of paranoia.
As you would expect there have been real-life studies of the post-wedding period and one showed that 86% of women experience a steadily decreasing level of marital satisfaction. The most overwhelming contributional factor that predicted this dissolution of love was, sadly, intimate partner violence. The Honeymoon Phase does not shy away from this reality of domestic abuse and although the film centres more on the insidious subtleties of mental degradation, one scene involving a curling iron pounds heavily on the thin ice of pure shock cinema.
The film is certainly more concerned with thematic exploration than genre exploitation but it really doesn’t mind pulling triggers and pushing buttons along the way. A particularly icky narrative twist involving spermatic fluid is so over the top and elongated that it seems designed to elicit uncomfortable belly laughs. The overall vibe is mischievous, with self-aware montages and curiously abstract dialogue, which make the deep dives into despair all the more harrowing.
The concluding reels of The Honeymoon Phase are pacy but credibility testing and overstretch its modest budget. However, after all the hard graft and measured craft that precedes it, you can forgive a swift dalliance with the improbable. Balancing entertainment value with a keen narrative edge is a tricky cinematic task. In this case, the filmmakers show the good sense to install many of its incisive motifs as an overstrike protector for its sledgehammer of a twist ending.
A brutal reminder of those at the mercy of psychological abuse, this intelligent snapshot of loss gains further social dynamism in the currently receding shadow of the COVID lockdown. How many giddy couples around the world tied the knot, only to find themselves emotionally stranded in intense isolation, or worse still, physical peril? It might be the true relevancy of The Honeymoon Phase is yet to be revealed.