[some mild spoilers ahead]
Not to be confused with The Beach House (2016 Lebanese film), The Beach House (2018 TV movie) or The Beach House (2019 short film), The Beach House is a horror film from debut director Jeffrey A Brown, which will be coming to Shudder on July 9 2020. The film stars Liana Liberato (To the Stars, Banana Split, Novitiate, To the Bone and Trust), a stalwart of the indie coming-of-age scene and Noah Le Gros (Wolves, The Get Down, Depraved, A Score to Settle), the son of actor James Le Gros. They play college students Emily and Randall, who decide to go to Randall’s estranged father’s beach house for the weekend, even though it’s out of season and the surrounding area is practically deserted. When they get there, they are shocked to find that another couple are already there – Mitch (Jake Weber, who I mainly associate with the great 90s TV show American Gothic) and Jane Turner (Maryann Nagel) – friends of Randall’s father, who Randall hasn’t seen since he was a young child. They decide to cohabit in the space, making the best of the situation by sharing a meal, getting drunk and taking edibles.
The first hints that all is not right with the world is in the opening shot of the film, which is of hydrothermal vents spewing goodness knows what into the sea. After the meal, all the wine and the edibles – the two couples go outside and there is a mysterious blue phosphorescent substance everywhere, combined with a funny smell. The luminous blue trees and later, a coloured fog, are reminiscent of a few recent films including Color out of Space (based on a Lovecraft story) and Alex Garland’s Annihilation. This obviously adds to the trippiness of what they’re experiencing, especially for Jane, who is mentally unwell to begin with and highly medicated.
The main foreshadowing comes from Emily, who is studying organic chemistry and wants to go on to study astrobiology afterwards (which examines the origins of life on earth and how life adapts to extreme conditions underwater). She talks to Jane about something entering the atmosphere and reacting/replicating to create the ocean. Emily is being established as the Final Girl early on, because she has the expertise to understand what is happening and we are led to believe she will utilise this information later in the film. Randall, on the other hand is a drop-out, sees himself as unconventional (a Ben Braddock type) and doesn’t want the standard suburban life.
The setting is sufficiently spooky and some nice dread is established, based on the premise that a strange couple are already in a house that Emily and Randall expected to be empty. Some more could have been done with this premise, such as the two mismatched couples having to band together to face the threat. Instead of this, both Jane and Mitch keep going missing and the unease is perpetuated through Jane (in particular) acting oddly. Much more could also have been made of Emily’s knowledge of oceanography – whatever seems to be happening appears to have originated in the sea. Instead, she is set up as an expert, but then doesn’t really do anything with any of her knowledge. Instead she becomes the typical tough and plucky Final Girl, using grit and determination to outlast other characters.
There are occasionally some well-framed shots by cinematographer Owen Levelle, particularly on the beach and also when using sight-lines in the house to increase fear of the unknown. Daylight horror is used effectively for a short time, on the brightly sunlit beach – and this is by far the most effective section – I just wish the filmmaker had been bold enough to set almost the entire thing during the day. The score by Roly Porter does nothing to elevate it beyond a typical horror score – which uses tonal electronica to provide tension. Ultimately, there’s nothing really wrong with The Beach House – which is well acted, particularly by Liberato – but there’s nothing to make it stand out from the crowd either. While you can spend a pleasant enough time with it (especially as it’s only 90 minutes), it is too slight to prove memorable. Jeffrey A Brown introduces some interesting ideas that don’t really go anywhere and gives his characters traits (Emily’s expertise, Jane’s mental health issues) that would have been good to see develop into having more impact on the story. Instead, they’re just red herrings that ultimately prove frustrating and the promising potential of the premise and characters is squandered.
Directed by: Jeffrey A. Brown
Written by: Jeffrey A. Brown
Cast: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber