THE BEACH HOUSE
Starring: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, Maryann Nagel
Written & Directed by: Jeffery A. Brown
“You should be thankful you have all the time to do what you want” -Jane
Writer and director Jeffery A. Brown’s first feature film, The Beach House (2019) takes four characters in the midst of pivotal, personal journeys and exposes them to the cosmic horror of a deadly force from the primeval ocean floor. Two couples are brought together at the titular beach house by chance. While soon-to-graduate Emily (Liana Liberato) is pondering grad school programs, her boyfriend, Randall (Noah Le Gros), is pressuring her to join him on his quest for a life of “vacation all the time.” They meet Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryann Nagel), an older, married couple with their own major issues. Jane is gravely ill, possibly dying, while Mitch struggles to care for her while drinking heavily.
The group has dinner together then consumes the edibles that Randall brought. As each one happily embarks on his or her separate chautauqua, a mysterious, glowing fog rises out of the ocean, seemingly released from the depths. The group feels it pervade their bacchanalia with bizarre visions before they all pass out. They awake the next day to a radically changed world. Mitch is missing, and Jane is uncommunicative. Emily is concerned, but Randall wants to go to the beach. Emily has misgivings, feeling something is very wrong, but she complies, and the couple heads out.
Brown quickly serves up the film’s creepiest and most terrifying moments as the residents of the beach house navigate the new world. Once on the beach, Randall gets sick and runs back to the house, leaving Emily alone when Jake appears. He scares Emily with his bizarre behavior, swimming away before disappearing into the ocean. While calling for him from the beach, Emily is attacked by a creature that infects her with a parasite. Her self-surgery to remove it on the kitchen floor is easily the most horrifying moment of The Beach House.
Brown bookends his film with lovely montages of a humanity free nature. In the beginning, the images beguile the viewers with their unspoiled, Eden-like beauty. In the end, they serve to underscore how easily life can be removed. As Emily says, “We are the exception. We are delicate.”
The Beach House offers many great elements and aspires to be a thought-provoking and scary horror film. The cinematography is wonderful. In addition to the montages at either end of the film, the group’s inner journeys under the influence of the fog and the edibles are dreamy, magical displays of hallucinatory psychedelia, providing a light show similar to Richard Stanley’s The Color out of Space.
But in the ensuing scenes after the visual fireworks, The Beach House shares the group’s hangovers as the characters become flattened to make room for the horrors that sprang forth from the night before. Despite their Lifetime Movie style backstories, Mitch and Jane are mostly there to look uncomfortable in the presence of their younger companions until then they disappear from the movie. The character of Randall is especially problematic. It is hard to understand why everyone love him so much since he is such a manipulative, self-centered character.
Even Emily, the most complex character of the group, gets caught in less rigorous horror territory when her character is forced to go through too many role changes without giving viewers time to invest any of them. While her description of the origin of life from a scientific perspective is an awe-inspiring, mystical, and reverential experience in itself, her moment as the scientist-savior quickly degrades to that of Cassandra, the prophet no one believes. Things get worse from there as she is demoted to the small band’s caretaker. Lastly, she becomes the clumsy victim/final girl who crashed the getaway car, didn’t get back on her feet and failed to save anyone, including herself.
In conclusion, The Beach House offers some excellent, visceral terrors coupled with the reminder that humanity is much closer to extinction than we would like to think. This is a perfect movie to watch during our present extinction-level pandemic because it reminds us that invisible monsters do exist and ride the air we breathe. When societal members insist that their individual needs trumps those of the other, that society is doomed to fail unless their corrective actions are applied. Wear the damn mask and vote in November. Although there are a few missteps along the way, The Beach House is never boring, offers plenty of food for thought, and provides some icky-good scares.
The Beach House is currently streaming on SHUDDER.
Check out the trailer below.