The Beach House, 2019.
Directed by Jeffrey A. Brown.
Starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel.
A young couple head to a secluded beachfront property in an attempt to patch up their relationship, but find uninvited guests and supernatural threats lurking.
In the new horror movie The Beach House – debuting this week on genre streaming service Shudder – a viral threat to the existence of the human race spreads around an idyllic beach. It could easily be a documentary about Bournemouth in the age of COVID-19. Jeffrey A. Brown’s movie, however, is actually a delightfully squelchy tale that borrows liberally from horror maestros like Lovecraft and Cronenberg en route to a movie that somewhat disappears down the plughole of its own influences.
Budding scientist Emily (Liana Liberato) and her college dropout boyfriend Randall (Noah Le Gros) have travelled to the eponymous holiday home, which is owned by his dad. They’re hoping that a romantic holiday in the sun will get their relationship back on track. It turns out, however, that Randall’s father has told his friends Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryann Nagel) that they can use the house. The two couples reluctantly agree to share the house and have a bizarre evening of food, drink and very strong edible marijuana – at which point things go downhill in a hurry as a strange, unnaturally colourful fog moves in.
That journey downhill starts when Jane, who is in ill health and takes a lot of medication, wanders off into the woods and, the next morning, appears to have significantly changed. It’s pretty standard horror material for the most part in this early stage, though Brown neatly subverts the obvious suggestion that the interloping couple will be the villains of the piece by making them enthusiastic participants in an evening of hallucinogenic fun. There’s a sense of fun to these early scenes that neatly establishes all four of the central characters without delivering reams of bloated, clunky exposition.
There’s a terrific visual invention to the more supernatural turn the movie takes, with DP Owen Levelle finding coherence amid the vivid chaos of the malevolent fog. The Beach House also has a solid grasp on icky practical effects, with one particular scene involving the extraction of a worm earning more winces than many major multiplex horror releases can muster in their entire running time.
Sadly, for all of its solid performances – Liberato is particularly strong as a genuinely whip-smart and resourceful leading lady – and competent genre homages, The Beach House is simply lacking in substance beneath the schlock. As with this year’s more direct Lovecraft work Color Out of Space, the central message is of a timely environmentalist bent, but it simply struggles to burst through the fog in this case. When the action spirals deeper and deeper into insanity, the film’s careful build-up work and effective scares dissipate into a sadly rather tedious nothingness.
Given Brown’s willingness to sing from the same hymn sheet as Cronenberg for some of his body horror beats, it’s unforgivable how little depth there is to The Beach House. Even at his most crowd-pleasing and grotesque, the Canadian maestro always had something profound to say. There’s little beneath the surface of Brown’s seafront shocker and it can’t match the best of Lovecraft-inspired cinema for straight-up bonkers plotting and carnage either. It’s loaded with potential, and mostly unfolds as watchable horror fun, but falls sadly short of being anything more than that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.