The Beach House (not to be confused with the 2018 movie all about turtles) is the first full length movie directed by Jeffrey A. Brown and it’s… not bad. It’s not bad at all for a first “proper” movie. It’s got some stuff it does really well, some not so well.
Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) arrive at a beach house owned by Randall’s father, expecting to have a quiet weekend to themselves to rekindle the embers of their relationship, only to discover that the house is already occupied by an older couple, Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryann Nagel).
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After some initial awkwardness the two couples decide to share the house for the weekend. Later, after indulging in some “edibles”, the couples notice that something weird seems to be going on. The air, the plants, everything around the house has taken on a purple tinge. Is it just an effect of the drugs or is something else going on? Waking up the next morning, it swiftly becomes obvious that everything is not well with Jane and from that point on everything is off-kilter and weird, sliding ever downward into…. well, you’ll need to watch the film to see.
There are two big sins that the film commits. The first is that the first half of the film doesn’t entirely gel with the second half. There’s no real menace or indication that anything is about to go south, and while that can work perfectly well for a set up, here it outstayed its welcome. Rather than horror, a viewer must sit through half an hour of awkward conversations about family and relationships that just aren’t all that engaging. The relationship between Emily and Randall feels truncated and strange, which may be intentional given that things are meant to be strained between them, but they never feel like an entirely genuine couple.
Now, this aside, when things finally hit the fan and the existential dread shows up? This film becomes a much more interesting animal – claustrophobic, tense, filled with menace and confusion, as we follow the characters in their desperate attempt to escape. But at the same time…. it’s not going to please everyone. What is actually happening? Is it a local or worldwide phenomenon? Why did it even happen to start with? All of these questions and more… will never be answered. The film drops various hints about it, teasing the viewer with snippets of radio chatter and conjecture but there are no clear explanations to be found here, no definitive answer, and the ending is an ambiguous one.
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The film is also chock-full of practical effects, which always gets a big thumbs up from me. Things are gooey and slimy and visceral and disgusting and it works well, but at the same time I honestly could have done with more of it. There’s a bit too much time dedicated to people running around in the dark and not enough time to eldritch body horror and people getting turned inside out. That might just be me, though.
The music from Roly Porter (In Fear, Interferenz) is appropriately ominous and discordant, working well within the confines of the film. It doesn’t appear to be available to stream but I honestly hope that it will be someday, as I’d be interested in listening to it on its own. He does a nice line in ambient soundscapes that tickle my inner music nerd.
The Beach House is an uneven film, a film of three parts. One part awkward romance, one part existential dread a la Color Out of Space, and one part Cronenberg-esque body horror. Do all these disparate parts gel and flow and feel like a cohesive story? No. Is it still worth watching? Yes. For his first feature film, Mr Brown has done a stand up job. There’s a genuine feeling of tension and dread in the latter half of the film, the viewer is drawn in and taken along with the characters, feeling their fear and confusion as the situation spirals further and further into a bleak abyss.
The Beach House premieres on Shudder UK on 9th July.