The Beach House, 2019.
Written and directed by Jeffrey A. Brown.
Starring Liana Liberato, Jake Weber, Noah Le Gros, and Maryann Nagel.
A romantic getaway for two troubled college sweethearts turns into a struggle for survival when unexpected guests – and the surrounding environment – exhibit signs of a mysterious infection.
Jeffrey A. Brown’s feature debut attempts to meld two disparate horror sub-genres – the remote-getaway-gone-wrong film and the body horror infection movie – the results of which are fitfully intriguing, if ultimately a touch underwhelming.
Young lovers Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) head to his family’s seaside beach house for the weekend, hoping to rekindle their flagging relationship. Soon enough their tranquil downtime is upended, however, by Mitch and Jane Turner (Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel), a middle-aged couple who claim to be friends of Randall’s father and are also occupying the beach house. The two couples agree to share the gorgeous abode, just as the area becomes ground zero for a mutagenic contagion which permanently changes anything it comes into contact with.
Even with its vaguely creative mission to hybridise two very different types of horror movie, The Beach House doesn’t quite hit the transformative stride you’d hope for, still smacking disappointingly familiar as Brown’s script clings strictly to most of the expected tropes. As tired a conceit as it is in 2020, it feels painfully arbitrary that the more elevated sci-fi-horror scenario is juxtaposed against Emily and Randall’s uneasy central relationship.
More bothersome is the script’s generally functional, expository nature, in one early scene even clumsily double-underlining the origins of the contagion itself by having Emily study an adjacent academic subject. How convenient.
On a broad level, Brown’s project is a fusion of wilfully low-key, restrained filmmaking and slightly ridiculous storytelling. While much of The Beach House is defined by eerie quiet, on the flip side it’s not terribly easy to buy into the fact that these four people would really agree to share this confined space with one another. There’s a tension between this mild silliness and an aesthetic style which so often opts for restraint, and a failure to commit to one distinct tone eventually undermines everything within it.
There certainly are ominous moments, though; Brown clearly has enough faith in himself to point the camera at a single, scarcely moving object for a long time and expect that the audience will stick with it – and in at least one case, that’s definitely true. Things uptick more generally, however, in the second half, as the film takes a detour into genre ick, namely an overt venture into body horror.
Impressively gnarly practical makeup effects are sure to leave audiences about ready to wretch, even if they’re disappointingly scarce throughout. Some of the movie’s more experimental and ambitious visuals, meanwhile, are rather a mixed bag; a few trippy kaleidoscopic asides deserve credit for their creativity, but they also skirt a fine line between boldly unconventional and a little too cheap-looking for their own good.
Overall these heightened sequences may lack the red-blooded intensity necessary to truly get under the skin – pardon the pun – but they at least perk up a film that too often feels sparse and unpopulated, especially considering its mere 88-minute runtime.
Yet what truly keeps The Beach House watchable enough is a killer central turn from the highly talented Liana Liberato, touting a scream worthy of the genre’s finest, and throughout suggesting she deserved a more convincing vehicle than this. While nobody else is asked to commit as hard to their role as she is, the small cast generally does solid work with the middling material they’re given.
Though there’s certainly some appealingly understated filmmaking throughout this horror jaunt, it too often feels slack, airless, and even uninspired. While occasionally finding the right hypnotic groove – especially with its fantastically executed final shot – it too often whiffs of a half-developed idea needlessly stretched out to feature length. As a 40 minute Twilight Zone episode, this probably would’ve fared much better.
Liana Liberato’s strong performance notwithstanding, The Beach House is too formulaic and low-energy to be particularly memorable, yet hardly a terrible sit.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.