James Jay Edwards reviews The Beach House, an atmospheric horror film written and directed by Jeffrey A. Brown, his directorial debut.
Nothing is scarier than a packed beach at the height of a global pandemic. Nothing, except maybe for a completely empty one. Or, at least, that’s what the new Shudder original movie The Beach House would like you to believe.
The Beach House is about a young couple named Emily and Randall (Liana Liberato and Noah Le Gros) whose relationship is going through some growing pains. For some alone time, they head to a secluded beach house owned by Randall’s estranged father. When the pair arrives, they discover some other friends of the father, an older couple named Mitch and Jane Turner (Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel), have also been given permission to use the house. The initially awkward encounter turns friendly when the foursome decides to have dinner together. The friendliness ends when drugs are introduced into the equation, and each person experiences their own bad trip. And the terrifying things that may or may not be happening outside the confines of the beach house aren’t helping anyone come down.
(The Beach House, theatrical release poster, Shudder)
Writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown has done a lot of location management in his cinematic career, but The Beach House is his feature film debut. It’s a solid first effort, showing that Brown has an eye for imagery and a knack for creating tense situations. The film starts off promisingly enough, keeping the audience on its toes with a setup that is soaked in eerie mystery and palpable suspense. The initial interactions between the four characters are filled with pleasant mistrust as they feel each other out over dinner. The ominous peacefulness of the titular Beach House only adds fuel to that paranoid fire.
Once the substances kick in is where the movie’s problems begin, and not just with the puzzling quantities of drugs (can four people really get that high off of one single edible candy bar?). Everything shifts from being a psychological character study of human uncertainty and becomes a full-fledged dystopian body horror exercise, almost Lovecraftian in its presentation. All of the intriguing setup goes out the window as the plot devolves into a typical victims-on-the-run tale bathed in the usual horror movie visual tropes of neon and fog.
(The Beach House, Shudder)
This is also the point in The Beach House where Brown’s inexperience in storytelling and pacing starts to pop up. The burn in the second half of the movie is a little too slow, simply padding the running time instead of adding to the overall anxiety that had been building up during the first half. The scenes of searching and finding and losing again go on for an eternity, and while both the beach and the characters are pretty, the engaging part of the narrative comes to a screeching halt.
But the biggest issue with The Beach House will be seen as an asset to some, and that’s the fact that the movie never adequately explains what’s going on. There are visual cues and hints to the fact that the events of the movie are ecological and more than just a drug-induced hallucination on the part of the four main characters, but there’s no big “ah-HA!” moment that opens everyone’s—including the audience’s—eyes to it. The third act has some spoon-fed exposition that almost feels like an afterthought to partially solve this problem, but mostly the mystery stays a mystery. Sorry if that spoils part of the movie by subtraction for anyone. And again, some will love the ambiguity and open-endedness of it, but most will just shrug their shoulders and ask, “What?”
(The Beach House, Shudder)
The Beach House is all atmosphere and no narrative. Well, very little narrative. But it looks spooky, and the deserted beaches are a nice change from the terrifying full ones of reality. So, there’s that.
The Beach House is now streaming on Shudder.