Saturday, June 19, 2010

Movie Review: The Honeymoon Killers

The Honeymoon Killers
How do audience members rate verisimilitude in the films they watch? We sometimes say that a certain film has a realistic feel to it. A certain visceral impression that the situations in the film could have happened just the way they are presented to us.

Maybe low production values combined with a decent story contribute to an authentic feel. And sometimes even the passage of time may allow that tangible sense of "real" to creep into a movie.

Or perhaps because of the fact that so many of the films we watch are churned out by Hollywood, the good, non-Hollywood ones that come along are so jarringly different in comparison that we are inclined to attach the authentic label to them.

Regardless, filtered through the lens of movie-speak and other suspension of disbelief aspects, there is something about particular films that strikes us as being somehow more real or believable than others.

Twisted Relationship 
A refreshing and unusual movie released in 1970, The Honeymoon Killers, starring Sharon Stoler and Tony Lobianco, has that raw, unpolished feel that contributes to its memorable quality and, at times, sense of realism.

Stoler plays Martha Beck, a damaged woman who has never known love, and as a result has become a bitter, angry individual. But she still shows glimpses of warmth: when she tries to soothe herself and when she finally does find someone to love her. But a twisted love it is.

Martha meets the essence of seediness: a swarthy, shameless lothario—Lobianco as Ray Fernandez—who is creepiness distilled into its purest form. Yet he possesses the uncanny knack that so many predators have: preying on the weak and lonely.

Ray responds to a letter that Martha writes to a lonely hearts dating agency. He spins some horribly clich├ęd missives professing his love for her. But of course, he really wants to use up Martha and throw her away. She senses this and homes in on that predatory element in him, nurtures it, and makes it a part of who they become together.

After a few meetings, Ray tells Martha that she was just one of many. He regularly writes to women who advertise in the lonely hearts pages of newspapers. He shows romantic interest and then tries to suck them dry financially. Instead of showing revulsion and disgust at what he does, and the fact that she was one of his targets, Martha gets involved with his scams. She tags along as his "sister" when Ray meets up with his victims.

Sick, Murderous Little Vignettes
A series of simmering, twisted, and sad vignettes in which Martha's jealousy and the vulnerability of the women being set up make for good drama. It also provides a painful look at the lonely lives that so many people lead, and what can happen because of that desperation.

The swindles get nastier and more ruthless, and Martha and Ray start murdering their prey. There really is never any doubt how things will turn out, but the situations can be at times intense, and the growing warped relationship between Ray and Martha creates a great deal of voyeuristic appeal. As some couples bond through a life of ups and downs and various challenges, a twisted yet real love seems to develop between these two pathological freaks.

The Honeymoon Killers features two of the most harrowing murder scenes you will ever see. The banal, bathetic manner in which Martha and Ray destroy their victims is part of the power of this film. It switches from black humour and near farce to ruthless, nasty violence in a heartbeat. But they are so wrapped up in the surreal world that they have created that it is all rationalized away with little effort.

Absurdity and Realism Mix Well
While there is that sense of realness about the film, it also has an absurdist quality about it. And after all, since reality is absurd so much of the time, this aspect of the movie is very appropriate. The film is "based on a true story," but as with most such claims, and especially regarding obscure crimes that happened so long ago and for which there is little historical evidence, it's hard to say how true to life this movie is. That's not important though.

The movie was ahead of its time, or at least not in sync with its time, in terms of editing and pace. It ticks along and jumps from scene to scene in a way that will appeal to the move-goer of today who has little time for long, drawn out scenes and extended dialogue.

A tale about how far some people will go to alleviate the loneliness and existential drudgery that plague their bleak lives. The Honeymoon Killers will seem gratuitous and exploitative to some but others will enjoy the film's haunting, bleak depiction of a strange murderous little world.

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