Director: Jeffrey A. Brown
Starring: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, Maryann Nagel
Run Time: 87 mins
In recent years there are has been a dramatic upsurge in all things Lovecraftian horror from The Void to Colour Out of Space to Jordan Peele’s upcoming Lovecraft Country. Now we can add Jeffrey A. Brown’s feature debut The Beach House to that list. An eco-horror with a definite Lovecraftian tinge.
There are actually a number of films it draws, not particularly flattering, comparisons such as The Fog, The Mist, and even a little bit of Annihilation. Which is not to say it is terrible. Far from it as when the horror kicks in, there are some great moments. Unfortunately, those moments don’t come frequently enough.
Before we get to all that we get a somewhat lengthy set-up. Intially, we are introduced to, a young couple Emily (Liberato) and Randall (Le Gros) who arrive at the latter’s father’s beach house. Their plans for a romantic weekend plan are crashed when they discover the beach house has been rented out to a middle-aged couple Mitch (Weber) and Jane (Nagel). All this leads to an awkward night full of strained inter-generational chat and culminates in them all taking marijuana edibles together (because, of course!).
Throughout these establishing scenes, there is a low-hum of horror in the background. Something unsettling and mysterious is going on. With all the ominous close-ups of running tap water, bubbles in the wine, etc, we know it is connected to the sea but little else. The trouble with these scenes is while it is clear the filmmaker is going for slow-burn horror, there is nothing to truly hook the viewer in. That sense of dread in the air that you get from something like “Hereditary” is sorely lacking. There is little in the way of tension and all the shots to tease the horrors to come, feel heavy-handed.
Another reason it fails to connect early is the characters just aren’t that interesting. Randall is your stereotypical douchey horror boyfriend. Jane is barely there as a character due to being heavily medicated. Both Emily and Mitch are more interesting, but this mainly due to the performances of Liberato and Weber more than anything. As the dialogue between all of them rarely rises above inane.
Also, the device of Jane being on several meds and the foursome taking drugs seems to be there to set up the possibility that none of what transpires is happening. And yet none of the characters nor the film itself ever seem to question the reality of the situation, rendering it pointless.
All of which makes the movie sound terrible. And to be fair, it is not. There are certainly some interesting ideas here, and given our difficult times at the moment, and any nature-taking-its-revenge style horror is naturally going to hit home harder.
Moreover, the movie starts to explore the grander scale of what is going on with this mysterious infection things get a lot more interesting. Presumably budget meant the filmmakers could not go further with this, in terms of scale. On saying that, in terms of practical effects, the production punches above its weight as there are some wonderfully goopy moments in the second half of the movie. All of which proves far more effective than slow-burn atmospherics it tries for early on.
Overall: A frustrating watch. There are many intriguing ideas here tied together with pleasingly trippy visuals and some great practical effects. However, due to flat pacing, weak characterisation, and even weaker dialogue, too much of its short running time (87mins) feels like a slog.
Check out the trailer for "The Beach House" here
"The Beach House" is now available on Shudder