Following a little routine stalking Jorge (Kotsifakis) kidnaps his attractive neighbour Isabel (Ahmed) and installs her as his wife (for wife read hostage) in the basement of his home. Ceremony over, Jorge drugs, tortures, abuses and generally degrades Isabel, seemingly under the misguided belief they should be together.
The kidnap theme is a common one for filmmakers but Diego Cohen has taken this familiar premise and turned it into a dark, disturbing little tale with his new feature Honeymoon. His influences are clear, ranging from the restricted captivity of Misery to scenes that rival Hostel for brutality. And yet Cohen manages to avoid the obvious pitfalls to create a film that poses a few questions, not least of which the old nurture versus nature conundrum.
Honeymoon begins distinctly low-key, with little dialogue and story development in the opening act, and this is a thread that runs right through the film. Many subsequent scenes are drawn out with little action, almost as if time for the audience is passing as slowly as it is for the imprisoned Isabel. Instead of being tedious, these elongated moments add to the heightened tension leading to greater impact in the moments of extreme brutality. One failed escape attempt leads to Isabel having the fingers of one hand skinned, a scene that will rival anything you will see this year in the difficult-to-watch stakes.
That said, instead of slipping over into more Hostel-like territory Cohen always manages to centre his film as a very intimate, personal drama. Essentially a two-hander, Honeymoon feels much more like a character piece, with the interactions between Jorge and Isabel beautifully, if darkly, played out by Kotsifakis and Ahmed. Their hugely dysfunctional relationship ripples with mutual contempt despite Jorge’s apparent obsession. He is both unwilling and unable to express anything close to actual affection, seeming to prefer punishing his “wife” rather than trying to talk her round to his warped sense of reality. This hints toward an undercurrent of mystery that leaves you wondering throughout if there is more to the situation. Perhaps there is something both characters are aware of that has yet to be revealed? And whether that is or isn’t the case adds to the unavoidable discomfort of both character and audience.
As a variation on the hostage theme Honeymoon is an interesting and engaging film, with strong performances and clever, almost distant directing. Whether or not it works for you will be determined entirely by how much you buy into the character’s relationship and motivations, as their actions are key to how the story ultimately unfolds.
HONEYMOON / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: DIEGO COHEN / SCREENPLAY: MARCO TARDITI ORTEGA / STARRING: HECTOR KOTSIFAKIS, PAULINA AHMED, ALBERTO AGNESI / RELEASE DATE: OFFICIAL UK RELEASE DATE TBA