dir. Phillip G. Carroll Jr.
Deep in the woods there’s an experiment going on. Tom (Jim Shubin) and Eve (Chloe Carroll), isolated in a high-tech cabin filled with surveillance equipment, are participating in a scientific investigation of what makes couples feel that giddy elation of when they first fell in love. For 30 days they can eat, play, make love and enjoy each other’s company, and in return for successfully completing their tenure a handsome $50,000 paycheck awaits. But as the research wears on the edges of Eve’s sanity starts to fray, and she begins to suspect that Tom is not the man she thought he was.
With its marriage of high-concept relationship drama and tech-phobic dystopia there’s more than the whiff of Black Mirror to Phillip G. Carroll Jr.’s tale. Add to this a dash of The Shining (1980) – Tom’s a struggling author immobilised by writer’s block and given to unpredictable rages – and a smattering of the female paranoia from Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and it scans as a heady cocktail filled with claustrophobic promise.
The issue is that things never live up to the potential of this setup. This is a film that rises or falls on the connection between the two leads and whilst Carroll is convincing as a woman cut adrift and plagued by suspicion, Shubin struggles to imbue Tom with anything beyond the binaries of annoyingly saccharine and homicidal anger. Romantic frisson is perhaps a rare thing in real life and equally difficult to replicate on screen: so too here it’s never possible to fully invest in the authenticity of the central love affair.
There are also structural issues that become increasingly apparent as the plot unfurls. Punctuated by talking heads with Tom who tearfully advises that Eve died on their wedding day this omniscient narration somewhat diffuses the focus on Eve’s experiences, unwelcome mansplaining on what ostensibly is a female story.
By the time the final reveal is made – a moment which is both inevitable and, in it’s execution, in incredibly poor taste – one is left not so much feeling bereft of a relationship mired by tragedy so much as infuriated that it existed at all.
THE HONEYMOON PHASE has its UK Premiere at FrightFest 2020 Digital Edition on 29th August 2020.