LIFE'S A BEACH
The Beach House (15)
Review: RJ Bland
The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed film-viewing behaviour these last few months. Many have had additional time to watch more films. Films they love, films they've been meaning to see for ages, films that they randomly stumble upon on streaming platforms. The types of films that people have been viewing have also been influenced by what is going on in the world right now, with some opting for light-hearted stuff and frothy comedies. I mean, who wants to see something dark and gnarly and depressing during a pandemic?
Turns out, quite a few people do. The horror genre has always been a way for people to explore their fears and anxieties in a safe and contained way. You might think that films about contagious diseases and infections would be the last thing that people would want to watch right now yet Contagion (one of the grimmest and most realistic films of that type ever made) is hugely popular. Sometimes putting things to the back of your mind or ignoring them all together isn't a comfort. Sometimes, you need to face those uncomfortable subjects head on. And whilst Director Jeffrey A. Brown had no idea when making The Beach House that the world would be in the state it is currently in, the film's release feels rather timely...
Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) are a young couple going through a bit of a tough spot in their relationship. She wants to go to college and he has just dropped out and wants to bum around for a year. In an effort to reconcile they drive up to Randall's estranged father's beach house in Massachusetts. However when they get there they soon realise that they are not alone. Randall's father has already lent the beach house to old friends Mitch and Jane. However, it's quickly agreed that there is enough room for all of them and they settle down for a nice dinner and a few bottles of wine (and some edible cannabis). However, the evening takes a turn when they notice what appears to be a blue algal bloom sweeping inland. Although it seems like a beautiful random act of nature at first, by the morning the effects of this event appear to be somewhat more sinister...
Like many successful sci-fi horrors, The Beach House manages to combine big ideas and concepts with a very modest budget. Ambitious films don't always have to cost the earth, you only have to look at recent features such as The Vast of Night and Coherence to realise that. Early Sci-fi B-movies tended to have the opposite approach and were only too happy to show off their otherworldly villains, with suitably amusing (yet endearing results). However, like the two titles mentioned above, The Beach House decides to focus on atmosphere and character building at the expense of fantastically realised creatures and spacemen (although we do still get to see some stuff). It's much more interested in asking questions than answering them and the result is a gripping – but rather pensive – sci-fi horror.
The limited cast and singular location means the story feels intimate and at times, somewhat suffocating. There are two ways to deal with subject matter of this scale. You either take a grand worldwide approach or you hone in on a select few characters and make the whole thing much more personal. If you've not got much money then you opt for the latter but it makes the central characters (and actors) that much more vital to the success of the feature. On that front, The Beach House doesn't disappoint. Liana Liberato may perhaps be the standout but they all deliver rather nuanced performances that greatly add a sense of mystery and subtle horror. And although for an hour or so the film feels content to bathe in the intrigue that it has created, it delivers the goods in a more visual and practical way in the last act with some solid body horror (amongst other things!)
There are some things that are a bit clunky. The whole 'ignorant drop out' boyfriend that's paired up with the 'bright, aspirational' girlfriend thing feels a little worn. There is some exposition that occurs about thirty minutes in that feels a little contrived too but to be fair, there are blunter and more crude ways of getting your central themes across. In terms of pacing, it feels as if the action comes a fraction too late in the day and we're not given quite enough time post the 'shit hitting the fan' moment.
These gripes aside, The Beach House is still an engaging, well-crafted and good looking cosmic horror that carefully ratchets up the tension and stands as a thoroughly impressive debut feature from Director Jeffrey A. Brown.