It seems that various takes on the infection-spreading-in-a-community narrative have become all too popular under the current circumstances. This is probably just a huge coincidence, but films like Neasa Hardiman’s “Sea Fever” and the inevitable “Corona Zombies” feel a little bit on the nose when we have all been holed up at home while a deadly virus rages on in the outside world.
The latest film to tackle something eerie spreading among our unlucky group of characters is “The Beach House,” which effectively mixes eco-horror and invasion horror with a touch of cosmic horror for good measure. The end result is tonally messy and strangely paced, but altogether a potent horror film.
The film begins with Randall and Emily driving up to Randall’s father’s gorgeous beach house. Some past issues are hinted at, and the couple’s relationship is clearly strained, but the two head upstairs towards the bedroom anyway. Soon after, the couple realizes that there’s already another couple in the house, having rented it from Randall’s father. They decide there’s plenty of space for everyone and even have a nice little dinner together, which ends with Randall whacking out some edibles, and that’s when things get very, very weird.
It’s a simple but practical premise, one that lets all the action unfold in a single location, which is both compelling and easy for first-time writer-director Jeffrey A. Brown to control and make the most out of. Brown’s approach doesn’t always work; the first half of the film drags especially badly, but the director shines once the film arrives at the more basic, but nevertheless interesting, horror genre conventions in terms of its narrative.
Brown’s script feels thin and stretched out; “The Beach House” would have probably worked better as a short film because even at less than 90 minutes, it doesn’t seem to have much to say about the world it depicts or the characters Brown wants us to root for. Still, this is a short and sweet genre thrill, full of slimy and gross practical effects, which should please the film’s intended audience. The film also has a nice and simple, but hugely impactful, score by Roly Porter. The cinematography and editing are fine, but there’s not a whole lot of creativity here. Technically, everything in “The Beach House” works but everything is a little bland, like a good dish that the chef forgot to season.
Emily, played by Liana Liberato, is the only one awarded any depth, and Emily makes for an engaging protagonist. While the film feels stacked with history between the characters and Brown addresses this with clumsy dialogue, Liberato manages to give Emily a personality and agency through simple things, like line deliveries and her physicality. As Randall, Noah Le Gros certainly looks the part of the slightly sleazy boyfriend but doesn’t convince otherwise. Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel are fine as the other couple in the house, but immediately feel disposable to the narrative.
“The Beach House” plays around with its influences and might even keep the audience guessing what’s going on – I detected some “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” vibes – but the film is at its best when it’s a straightforward horror romp. The first half has some nice visuals but lacks the style, which Brown suddenly seems to find halfway into the film, and it makes “The Beach House” feel like an entirely different film. A few scenes feel outright vicious and chilling, but other than that, “The Beach House” is just too messy to leave a lasting impression.
Featured image credit: Shudder