I think I might be going through modern independent withdrawal. I haven’t seen anything lately that excites me about the state of modern independent movies. Most of them are just pleasant and are made with a sense of complacency or quirkiness that I find annoying. I haven’t knocked over by the rawness, the emotional intensity or the interesting aspects of the human condition that I have come to associate with independent movies. These things are what excited me about art house cinema and kept me coming back for more. Instead of finding it in modern films, I am finding this sense of urgency in older independent and foreign films. A prime example of this is The Honeymoon Killers.
Martha Beck is an overweight nurse living alone with her aging mother. She is desperate for some human contact so her friend convinces her to join a Lonely Hearts club where single men and women write to each other. Martha quickly gets a letter from a shy foreign young man named Ray. Their letter exchanges evolve quickly into a May-December relationship and he comes to visit her. Ray is a handsome Latin man who is seemingly out of place in the Lonely Hearts club. He seduces Martha not just out of her clothes but also out of a couple of hundred dollars before going back to New York City. Martha realizes right away what he did, and follows him there. They soon join together to perform several cons on unsuspecting lonely women. Their take keeps increasing but so does the danger. Finally they have to resort to killing their victims in order to get the highest take possible. But Martha grows jealous of these many cons that involve Ray going off with these women to make love to them (even if it was just for show). They end up being victims of their own innate ability to con each other.
The Honeymoon Killers could have only been made during this time. The kinetic energy that exudes from this film was characteristic of a time in film history where the future of the medium was uncertain. Major studio flicks were failing, the censorship of years past was fading away into dust, and art films (albeit tinged with some sex) were dominating the major cinemas. The Honeymoon Killers takes all of these factors and produces a surprisingly gripping character study. The ways that Martha and Ray are able to manipulate not just their victims but also each other is characteristic of a screenwriter much more film literate than the traditional screenwriters were. The filmmakers were able to play on an audience expected outcome of a serial killer and twist it in order to achieve grisly results. If this movie had been made by a major studio, then the story would have morphed into a more traditional murder mystery. But given an unconventional director (who only directed this movie), unconventional actors (the woman who played Martha was quite big and not very attractive, though an remarkable actress), and a low budget that forced them to shoot mostly interiors in sparse bedrooms and living rooms and in black and white, the result is something startlingly unique.