The writer/director of the new horror film The Beach House, Jeffrey A. Brown (making his feature debut), is the first example I’ve seen of someone who made a name in TV and film as a location manager move into directing. But finding this out makes complete sense once you see the titular house. It’s not palatial, nor does it feature elaborate architectural design, but the geography of the space—including its long outdoor staircase leading to the beach—is exactly right for the story being told. And if you haven’t got a clue what the movie is about going into it, the setting sets up several possible types of horror movies before it’s revealed what exactly is terrifying the four-person cast.
Emily (Liana Liberato, Novitiate) and Randall (Noah Le Gros, Depraved) are a young couple set to spend some time at his father’s beach house. He’s taken the alarming step of quitting college, while she’s in grad school studying microorganisms (which is not a coincidence in relation to the plot). Shortly after arriving, an older couple—Mitch and Jane Turner (Jake Webber and Maryann Nagel)—show up thinking Randall’s father has given them permission to stay the weekend (turns out Nathan never actually cleared it with his dad that he was coming), but the two couples get along and the place is big, so they decide to share the house.
Without much explanation, things start getting weird the next morning after a sickeningly thick fog rolls in that makes it almost impossible to breathe. There’s an incident on the beach during which Emily steps on something that appears organic and cuts her foot, or so she thinks. And everybody starts acting sluggish, finding it hard to stay coordinated or even think straight. There are hints as to the issue at hand. The Emergency Broadcast channel mentions something about organisms coming up from the bottom of the ocean and that citizens should treat this like an extinction-level event, even though we have no real sense of how far-reaching this ecological disaster is. Emily seems to be the only one vaguely aware of what’s going on and the only person who attempts not to breathe in the fog that may be carrying whatever is infecting people.
Without getting political or didactic, The Beach House is a tightly wound environmental horror piece that sometimes slips into extremely effective body horror (when Emily deals with her wounded foot, eeesh!). The physical representation of this creeping terror is appropriately icky, with the entire phenomenon feeling incredibly timely, isolating and paranoia inducing to the highest degree.
Director Brown has a great sense of how to build tension, how to up his gore game as the film progresses, and how to pace his story so that details are revealed gradually (a rarity in recent indie horror productions). Moving forward, I hope Brown continues using these tools in whatever direction he takes future films, because they will potentially serve him well in several genres. I’m not sure the ending of the film entirely works, and as a result, it feels like time and/or money simply ran out. But guided by Liberato’s death-defying lead performance, The Beach House is a worthy, atmospheric, skin-crawling debut.
The film is now available on digital and VOD platforms.
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