Film Review – The Beach House (2019)

Ambitious student Emily and her dropout boyfriend Randall take a trip to his father’s beach house to thrash out their future. He’s a stoner having an entry-level existential crisis and she is a bit of a biological bore who fancies herself as the next Julie Theriot.

It appears they should have explored the house first before each other’s orifices when Emily goes for a post-coital snoop and discovers a woman wolfing down unwashed shellfish at the dinner table. It transpires she is an old friend of Randall’s father who is already staying in the property with her creepily intense husband. They decide to make the best of it and agree to cohabit for the duration. 

Settling down for a get to know you dinner the booze runs out and ganjapreneur Randall breaks out the edibles. Baked into oblivion they begin to experience a bizarre ecosystem of a down that will corroborate two of horrors most indelible tropes. Never go to a remote location to work on relationships, and never get high or you’re likely to die.

Jeffrey Brown’s pre-coronavirus infection chiller was a big hit on the festival circuit. A compact and refreshingly ambiguous film, it decants from a myriad of primordial horror swamps to concoct an intoxicating shot of seascape terror.

Contorting the posture of a 50’s B-movie, it plays like the offspring of Right at your Door and Long Weekend conceived in The Fog while Rabid took photos. If that sounds a little derivative, that’s because The Beach House is, but that doesn’t stop it from being an entertaining eco-romp.

The lead couple is almost as lovely to look at as the idyllic location and cinematographer Owen Levelle makes aesthetically solvent use of both. The impressive opening shot and the memorable final frames bookend a smooth tempo of artistic composition. One particular scene of lingering voyeurism, that recalls the shocking casual suicide of Harvey Keitel in Sorrentino’s Youth, distils glacial beauty from grim dissolution.

It may be a relatively low budget affair but The Beach House channels its resources with precision. As you would expect from an ex location scout, Brown has fabricated a viable sandbox for the cosmic horror chaos. The visual effects are low key but ethereal, yielding synergy to the smoke machine Sci-Fi vibe. The makeup effects are equally frugal, squirrelling the low hanging fruits of genre cliche before plundering the savage orchards of flesh gouging gore.

Brown’s naturalistic approach to horror is fascinating. The early verbal interactions between his characters transcend exposition and drift into the mollifying enclaves of ASMR. He exhibits the confidence to let his film respire organically and draw the viewer in with each diaphragmatic breath before the hyperventilation of the concluding reels.

However, this enigmatic calling card is not without its flaws and foibles. For some, the deliberate build will prove a little too soporific and the pay off too slight, for others the subtlety will incite disengagement. The Beach House can also feel a touch emotionally arid and would have benefited from pockets of astute humour sewn into the fabric of its schlocky slacks.

Although the performances are well-judged the characters themselves transgress the borders of likeability. The interloping older couple ooze far too much forced sentimentality and twee kookiness. Randall is childishly self-absorbed and Emily’s interrelationship dignity is at odds with her smug deportment. A little more time spent on the dynamics of their bond, in particular, would have galvanised audience empathy and boosted the velocity of the movie’s final impact. 

That being said, The Beach House is an assured and intrepid debut feature. A trippy environmental warning shot that encapsulates the paranoia and revisionism of the times we live in.

★★★★

Biological Body Horror, Survival Drama | USA, 2019 | 88 mins | 15 – gory scenes, strong threat| July 9th Release on AMC’s Shudder | Dir. Jeffrey A. Brown| With. Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber