Liana Liberato as Emily
Noah Le Gros as Randall
Jake Weber as Mitch
Maryann Nagel as Jane
Written & Directed by Jeffrey A. Brown
The Beach House Review:
It seems easy enough now to look at any film that deals with horrors in the ocean or the cosmic nature of things as purely Lovecraftian but when a film can one-up those elements and become something more disturbing and nerve-wracking, both in tone and sights, that’s when it shows it has the possibility of breaking free of its genre conventions and Jeffrey A. Brown’s The Beach House definitely takes multiple steps in that original direction.
Escaping to his family’s beach house to reconnect, Emily and Randall find their off-season trip interrupted by Mitch and Jane Turner, an older couple acquainted with Randall’s estranged father. Unexpected bonds form as the couples let loose and enjoy the isolation, but it all takes an ominous turn as increasingly strange environmental phenomena begin to warp their peaceful evening. As the effects of an infection become evident, Emily struggles to make sense of the contagion before it’s too late.
Though we’ve seen variations on the central character tropes in other films before, there’s a certain sense of originality regarding their relationships with one another, especially in Emily and Randall. Very rarely does a film, especially in the horror genre, see its twenty-something young characters actually having meaningful lives or problematic relationships, typically showing them as endlessly horny and party-seeking airheads, but Emily and Randall feel like well-written and nicely unique personas for their demographic. The two are not very lovey dovey with each other, noting a few times they’ve been estranged following Randall’s sudden departure from college, even when things get bad they show care for one another, but not in an affectionate sense and more just trying to help their fellow human being survive.
Mitch and Jane are, unfortunately, two of the weaker characters in the film as though they help ramp up the tension in a number of scenes, the writing for them is not nearly as fresh or original as Emily and Randall. The two feel like every out-of-date older person whose eyes got big and whose jaws drop when the prospect of trying edible marijuana is floated to them by the couple they were just drinking wine and eating dinner with moments prior. Jane especially feels too similar to the “aging old white woman” trope on display in far too many horror films of late, simply feeling like her sole existence is to confuse the younger characters as to whether her strange behavior is a side effect of her 200 pill bottles or something far more sinister. While Natalie Erika James’ Relic found a poignant thematic reason to utilize this trope, here it feels like a miscalculated and fairly unoriginal effort.
Minor character criticisms aside, the tension and atmosphere Brown brings to the screen is incredibly palpable, even from the opening moments of the couple silently driving up to the titular locale to the final seconds before cutting to the credits. Though Roly Porter’s score is a nice and chilling affair, Brown expertly keeps it an an underlying element to the film rather than one that scenes are reliant upon to amp up the tension, proving them to be plenty creepy and terrifying on their own.
The scares themselves are a work of art thanks to Brown’s magnetic direction alongside the chilling practical effect work for both the fully-transformed beings and those suffering early on. Though what is seen is not something known to exist, the effects work put into the various organisms feels so unique and authentic it’s as though the filmmakers truly discovered these beings and plucked them from the ocean to terrify the actors. Speaking of actors, the performers all do a relatively good job of keeping their characters as believable and grounded as possible, with Liberato proving to be a plenty compelling and enjoyable protagonist, whose craftiness and ingenuity harken back to that of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.
While some of its characters may feel a little unoriginal, The Beach House finds a way to magnificently balance Lovecraftian terror with Lynchian body horror and tense quarantine thrills to create a shocking and mesmerizing outing that also proves Brown to be a talent to watch after this impressive feature debut.