Review: THE BEACH HOUSE, Effective, Lean, Lovecraftian Horror
Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros and Jake Weber star in writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown's horror film, streaming soon on Shudder.
Jeffrey A. Brown's low-budget debut feature, The Beach House, is a fast-moving, effective, Lovecraftian horror. It's heavy on mood and light on exposition, which is the best kind of horror in my opinion. An ominous deep-sea underwater sequence with active hypothermal vents releasing plumes of black smoke and heat, even before the title, sets the tone nicely, signaling what's in store for us.
A young, attractive couple, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros), hoping to reconnect, arrives at a remote beach house that belongs to Randall's family. Emily is unsure about Randall's plan of just crashing at the house unannounced. But he insists that they will be alone and undisturbed. Soon they find out that there is an older couple, family friends, Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryann Nagle), already staying there. But they are kind enough to accompany the two young lovebirds' sharing the house, only if they are OK with it.
It is revealed that Jane is seriously ill and it is kind of a last hurrah for her and Mitch being there at the beach house. While chatting over dinner, Emily is revealed to be a beauty with a brain, as she is finishing her degree in Organic Chemistry and planning to continue her studies in Astrobiology in Grad school, unlike Randall, who has but all dropped out of college. She corrects Mitch on astrobiology that it is less to do with outer space but more about how organisms can survive in extreme environments, on earth. That there's still so much we don't know, she says, about the mother earth.
But even after all that primordial soup discussion, Emily refuses to slurp down oysters. It's an acquired taste, others quip. That night, they find organic, gooey phosphorus substances have overtaken trees in the surrounding area, glowing blue, both beautiful and otherworldly, yet creepy. Is it edibles they have taken together acting up or is it something else?
The next morning, Emily discovers Jane in bad shape and Mitch missing. Randall's stomach is acting up too, probably from oysters. Mitch shows up next to Emily on the beach, says some creepy stuff, and walks into the sea. Emily goes after him, only to step on slithery, moving organic creatures strewn about the shoreline. They seem like pods of some kind, with tentacles stretching out. Emily freaks out as one of them infects the bottom of her foot. Jane, in the process of turning into something else, is now a crawling mess, and attacks Randall. Those things are in the water system too. Then, a mysterious fog engulfs the area, rendering everyone into zombie-like, crawling creatures in transition. Emily desperately needs to find a vehicle to drive away.
The Beach House keeps moving things along, giving the audience no time for dwelling on why or how, and it is better for it. It builds on our preconceptions about the Cthulian myth and other creature horrors we grew up with and leaves it to us to make connections. With countless eco-disasters on the news in our daily lives -- global warming, arctic melting, offshore drilling, hurricanes, massive forest fires -- unfortunately, it is not hard to accept what's happening in The Beach House is entirely possible.
Liana Liberato, with her raised eyebrows and great athleticism, has a great potential to be a next great scream queen. It's also good to see the always great Jake Weber (Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead) in the film.
With 'we come from the sea, we go back to the sea' theme, The Beach House is a top-rate, gross creature feature, and a welcome addition to Lovecraft-inspired horror we hold dear.
The Beach House will available to watch in the US, Canada, UK and Ireland on AMC's horror streaming platform Shudder as of Thursday, July 9, 2020.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com