The Honeymoon Phase first published by Through the Trees
In writer/director/editor Phillip G. Carroll Jr.’s The Honeymoon Phase, we know from the start that things are going to end badly between aspiring author Tom Jacobs (Jim Schubin) and his illustrator girlfriend Eve (the director’s real-life wife Chloe Carroll). We know this because the film opens at its end, with a bearded Tom staring distraught at a photo and declaring, “My wife committed suicide on her wedding day.” So rapid a transition from wedded bliss to ultimate despair might be extreme, but Carroll’s feature debut is concerned precisely with the (normally more gradual) chilling of a relationship’s intensity that sees couples shift from the giddily amorous excitement of the ‘Honeymoon phase’ to eventual ennui, irritation, mistrust, resentment and – in some cases – violent rupture (of one kind or another).
At the film’s chronological beginning, Tom and Eve are not even married – but they agree to pretend to be, in order to meet the eligibility criteria for a 30-day experiment being run by the Millennium Project which pays $50,000 to participating couples. The Director (François Chau) of the experiment, a well-mannered widower, explains that the experiment is intended to determine the difference in feelings between “newlyweds and a couple celebrating their fiftieth anniversary”, in order to find a way “to outlast biology.” Tom and Eve are confined together for a month in a large apartment that caters to all their needs, and they are also monitored constantly, with a holographic Handler (Tara Westwood) checking in on them regularly.
In these luxurious surroundings, everything starts like a perfect romantic getaway – but it is not long before horror fan Eve starts having misgivings about the man she thought she knew, about her rights over her own body, and about the very nature of the experiment. Tom has suddenly become blocked in his writing, randily obsessed with reproduction, and no longer seems quite the man he was before. Meanwhile Eve appears not just to be pregnant – very much against her will – but also further along than ought to be possible. And so the mere 30 days that Tom and Eve spend together as a fake married couple accelerate, encapsulate and collapse the trials of an entire abusive marriage.
Much as Tom’s latest book has the working title Stuck in our Heads, The Honeymoon Phase psychologises the transformations and accommodations that occur in any evolving relationship. The writer’s block that accompanies the changes in Tom’s character (over winter) evokes the menacing domestic isolation of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), while the Capgras paranoia – and the title – recall Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon (2014). In the end, though, The Honeymoon Phase goes its own way, rooting its conflicts in SF-style manipulations and misguided romance. The focus may be on Eve’s confused experience of events, but every participant here, by implication, is equally a rat caught in a lab maze, merely playing at being husband or wife without being sure where the happy simulacrum ends and more bitter truths settle in.
Strap: Phillip G. Caroll Jr. uses a sci-fi frame to dissect the ups and re-echoing downs of an abusive marital relationship.
© Anton Bitel