The Beach House (2020) – horror/mystery/sci-fi – Jeffrey A. Brown – United States – 88 minutes – watch here
After debuting at a few genre festivals in 2019, The Beach House has been released digitally on July 9, to mildly positive critic consensus and generally unfavourable audience reception.
The debut feature from writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown is an indie effort that sets itself within the increasingly popular subgenre of cosmic/Lovecraftian horror, adding to it a few elements of mystery and a dash of good old body horror.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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The Beach House – story and perspective
The movie begins with a young couple, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros), going on a romantic getaway to strengthen a relationship that, it’s implied, went through some hard moments. After a few hours spent in the idyllic beach house, the two college kids are unexpectedly joined by an older couple who uses the house often and, in spite of the uncomfortable situation, they decide to have dinner together. Right when things seem to take a positive turn, though, the older couple and the environment surrounding our protagonists begin to show signs of a mysterious (and off-putting) infection.
One of the reasons why many viewers were less than pleased with The Beach House is that the film doesn’t provide answers to the questions raised throughout the runtime. Instead, we witness the events unfold from the perspective of the protagonists (and Emily, in particular): they don’t know what’s happening around them, they don’t have answers or solutions, therefore we don’t get them as viewers either. Given the goal of The Beach House and its director, this is actually one of the main strengths of the movie: you feel as tense and confused as the characters you’re following, thus sympathising more with them and feeling as hopeless as they do.
Lost in the midst of an apocalypse
The quite smart decision to make put the viewer in the shoes of the main characters falls short, however, due to the lack of character development and chemistry between the protagonists. Although Liana Liberato does a great job delivering her character’s understandable despair and hopelessness, the writing fails at making us truly care for her, due to the fact that she’s just a blank slate to the audience. Even worse, she has no chemistry with her boyfriend in the movie, who’s also the worst actor in The Beach House.
The best example to showcase such surface-level development is the dinner scene during the first act of the movie, where the uncomfortable feeling that the director tried to deliver can’t be fully felt by the audience due to the fact that every person just explains things to the others, with no real depth or development. As opposed to the audience figuring out the mental state of the people involved, The Beach House insists on it, thus resulting in a few confrontations of very little interest.
Cosmic horror with grounded effects
Just as the development feels lacking, also the visual effects come off as obvious and amateur: the drug trips in the movie are depicted in a very childish and uncreative way, especially when compared to recent examples a la Climax or Midsommar. Flashy lights paired with distortion lenses and foggy effects feel, also, as a cheaper version of the look and feel delivered by recent cosmic horror movies such as Mandy and The Endless.
On the other hand, The Beach House truly delivers on squeamish body horror elements that are creative and off-putting in equal measure. They are sprinkled throughout the runtime, but they become more present as the film raises the stakes and becomes increasingly crazier: in fact, The Beach House is very well-paced and appropriately climactic, with the third act being solid, impactful and nerve-wracking.
With a few good/great examples of cosmic horror done right to compare it to, The Beach House may result in a rather disappointing effort within this niche subgenre. However, given its restraints and goals, this film succeeds in more departments than it fails. As a directorial debut, The Beach House is a very solid, creepy and mysterious horror movie.
Character writing and presentation, on the other hand, are in desperate need of improvement, as they too often let the experience down, preventing The Beach House from being a more outstanding entrance in the cosmic/Lovecraftian horror subgenre.