The Honeymoon Phase

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Honeymoon Phase
"Beautifully framed within a carefully designed environment, The Honeymoon Phase has a distinctive look that fits very well into that older science fiction tradition whilst retaining a modern sensibility." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

Why does love fade over time? Why do few lovers manage to hold onto the passionate feelings they have for one another when they first get together? That's what Tom (Jim Schubin) and Eve (Chloe Carroll) are told they can help to discover by participating in the experiment. They're also told that they'll be paid $50,000 - money that could help them set up home together properly and allow Tom to finish the book with which he hopes to launch a writing career. So they lie that they're married, go through an interview, briefly meet with other selected couples - all apparently mixed sex pairs, though of various ages - and submit to a medical procedure following which the real work begins.

The substance of the experiment seems simple enough: they are to spend 30 days together in a spacious, comfortable looking house, being observed and recorded around the clock and having their brainwaves measured when, daily, they answer questions. There are a few futuristic trappings here but nothing that gives rise to alarm, at least not for these trusting young people, barely out of their teens. They have grasped, at least, that they might experience some psychological pressure, and have established a secret safeword they can use with one another if it becomes too much. What they have not grasped is that they may not be able to trust the experimenters.

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Writer/director Phillip G Carroll Jr supplies this fishy situation with an ample quantity of red herrings. Tom and Eve have plenty of relatable but self-destructive tendencies. One wonders early on if the apparently free supply of drink they are given will result in both emerging as alcoholics. When Eve witnesses a disturbing incident - or thinks she has - Tom's disbelief immediately sets her on edge and it's difficult to say whether this or the event itself worries her more. The subsequent behaviour of at least one of the experimenters raises further questions. Is this a Stanford Experiment analogue where the research subjects are deliberately being set at odds? And do the two lovebirds really know one another as well as they thought?

Nothing is quite what it seems in this tight little thriller. Attentive viewers with a bit of scientific background may pick up on early clues and some of what eventually emerges is a little too close to formula, a little too reliant on stereotypes, but there's still plenty to enjoy. Carroll makes a strong and sympathetic lead whilst Schubin, costumed and made-up as he is, captures the look of a very particular sort of Sixties or Seventies science fiction hero, with interesting implications. The changing attitudes of audiences also factor into how the story is balanced.

Beautifully framed within a carefully designed environment, The Honeymoon Phase has a distinctive look that fits very well into that older science fiction tradition whilst retaining a modern sensibility. It's a highly polished piece of work, which again suits the theme, and there are some interesting shot choices along the way, especially with regard to the way that Tom tends to be objectified when Eve - unless choosing to put herself in that position - is not. Carroll Jr's use of red as a highlight colour, directing audience attention, is not original but is well done, and complements the bright orange of the monarch butterflies we see in the interview room in an early scene, whilst their shape is referenced elsewhere with similar import.

In all, a lot of thought has gone into this film and it makes an impressive feature d├ębut. Though it may not score on all points, it has a lot of style and is well worth looking out for.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2020
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The Honeymoon Phase packshot
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?
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Director: Phillip G Carroll Jr

Writer: Phillip G Carroll Jr

Starring: François Chau, Tara Westwood, Ione Butler, Chloe Carroll, Jim Schubin

Year: 2019

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Frightfest 2020

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