Review: The Beach House

Year: 2020

Runtime: 88 Minutes

Director/Writer: Jeffrey A. Brown

Stars: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, Maryanne Nagel

By Harris Dang

One of my favourite traits in the horror genre is the contained settings in its storytelling. Whether the film is set in a cabin or a beach or a forest; the storytelling the horror genre entails can make any place feel claustrophobic. Another one of my favourite traits in horror is how it manages to mesh in issues in relation to humanity, politics and current events through a genre lens.

Which comes into the latest film premiere from Shudder, writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown‘s “The Beach House”. While the premise of the film is best left unspoiled, it does explore the traits mentioned above as well as feature elements of promise that is usually given in indie horror projects i.e. the environment of budget restrictions that can inspire moments of creativity from the filmmakers. Will the film succeed as a great example of indie horror and being a contained thriller?

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Liana Liberato and Noah Le Gros star as Emily and Randall, a young couple whose relationship is erring on the side of the struggle. The two figure that a good way to mend the relationship is for them to move into Randall’s family beach house for the off-season. What they did not expect was that they would meet an older couple Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryanne Nagel), who were acquainted with Randall’s estranged father.

“The four lead actors deserve major props for their performances in taking their roles from what could have been stock stereotypes and form them into full-bodied three-dimensional personalities.”

Aside from the serendipitous meeting, the two couples get along; even with the awkward mentions of seemingly taboo subjects involving backstories of parents, upbringing and future aspirations. The two decide to make the most of the night by bringing in some “recreational confectioneries” that can be considered illegal. But the next day, something odd is afoot. Numerous strange sightings have been noticeable to the young couple since they came to the house; some that would be considered common but more numerous than usual. But could it be the aftereffects of the night before or could it be something more sinister?

“The Beach House” is a disturbing horror experience that capably establishes a slow-burn descent into madness, not through numerous bells and whistles afforded from big budgets; but through imagination and focuses on characterizations that will draw in audiences in their plight.

Writer/director Brown capably sets up the four main players, along with their backstories. It does not spell them out with overt exposition but from the action. Scenes, where characters hesitate to respond in conversations or close-up shots that linger, tell more than dialogue ever could. Therefore the backstories are told cryptically, yet they never feel malnourished and it brings a certain anxiety to the film before the genre tropes even kick in.

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The four lead actors deserve major props for their performances in taking their roles from what could have been stock stereotypes and form them into full-bodied three-dimensional personalities. Liberato has always been a talented actress ever since she stood out in her breakthrough role in David Schwimmer‘s disturbing cautionary tale “Trust” (2010). Here in “The Beach House”, she conveys the intelligence, vulnerability and sheer will of Emily brilliantly in ways that never feel scripted but realistic in the context of the story.

As for the supporting cast, Le Gros (who was last seen starring with Nicolas Cage in “A Score to Settle” [2019]) brings enough heart and enigmatic presence to the character of Randall to make him memorable and believably conflicted while Weber and Nagel are wonderful together as an odd yet amiable couple.

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It is because of the succinct character building and the efforts from the cast, Brown is able to have complete control of the pacing; which is pensive yet conducive to the simmering tension that is built up in the first half of the film. Adding to the suspense is the visual cues and foreshadowing, which is peppered throughout. The practical effects are memorably icky — which includes a slug — and yet it never spells out what the incoming threat is going to be due to how organic it looks in the environment.

“The Beach House” is a sterling example in how meager resources can inspire creativity and fantastic efforts from the committed and writer/director Brown and his cast.”

But once the proverbial shit hits the fan is where Brown lets loose and the staging and initiation of the stakes look phenomenal. The second half of the film hearkens back to the plastic reality of 1980’s horror, where subgenres of body mutilation and science-fiction oddities were prevalent. Yet it also feels strangely prescient when one considers the current pandemic and how humanity has reacted to such a global event with such fear and paranoia.

The setpieces are utterly gruesome when it is shown and downright disturbing when it is implied (particularly with the intricate use of fog and dim lighting that obscures the image). A notable scene in the film involves an open wound, a foreign creature and a pair of forceps and it is enjoyably hideous.

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All of this momentum is built up to a polarizing conclusion that will split audiences due to its ambiguity but much like Brown’s skill in how he establishes the incoming threat, the power of suggestion, paranoia and mystery in the unknown does bring the story to a thematically satisfying close.

Overall, “The Beach House” is a sterling example in how meagre resources can inspire creativity and fantastic efforts from the committed and writer/director Brown and his cast and crew have a hauntingly nightmarish piece of work.

The Beach House” will premiere on Shudder on July 9th.

4 stars

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