Review: Horror flick 'The Beach House' delivers chills
Courtesy of SHUDDER
Yet again for what feels like the third time in a week span, we have another film unintentionally mimicking the current state of our society. It’s weird to admit, but yes, horror flick “The Beach House” - about a parasitic disease spread through water - feels like a parallel to 2020 in that an infectious disease is raging through society and kills folks rapidly. Obviously, the Coronavirus doesn’t turn people into, for lack of a better word, zombies that crawl towards your ankles, but the idea is still there.
Clearly inspired by the likes of H.P. Lovecrafts “Colour Out of Space,” Stephen King’s “The Mist,” or, to a lesser extent, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Jeffrey A Brown’s sly debut “The Beach House” is an exercise in suspense and tension: boasting a firm grasp on tone and strategic camerawork, this small indie delivers just enough grisly chills and spooks to make that Shudder streaming subscription worth the price. And maybe after watching this film in its entirety, you’ll be glad that summer vacation had to be rebooked.
Emily (Liana Liberato - “To The Stars”) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) are your basic, college aged couple who escape to the beach home of Randall’s father to work on their torn relationship. As most young couples often struggle with, the two can’t decide where things are headed once they graduate: she wants to study Astro-Biology in Washington, but he wants to settle down and start new. Ah, young love. Isn‘t it great?
Upon arriving at the lakeside home where the shores look completely empty, the couple assume they got a jump on the holiday vacations, but Emily notices signs of life in the home: including fresh groceries. Turns out, an old friend of Randall’s father: Mitch (Jake Weber) and his wife Jane (Maryann Nagel) have come to the beach house too for a different kind of vacation. We find out that Jane has some form of terminal illness and this is probably their last go around.
For a while, the couples get along, sharing war stories over a few bottles of wine (and perhaps an edible or two) before noticing a weird fog radiating from the water. Unbeknownst to them, this isn’t just any fog, it’s something much worse, but considering everyone’s on their own trip from the drugs, we don’t know what to believe.
A film earlier this year dealt with a similar initiative, “Sea Fever” - where creatures inhabited the water and the crew became infected. Unlike “Fever,” the human element and tension in “The Beach House” is considerably more alarming because it’s already on the shore where the big dilemma in “Fever“ was the fear of infecting others by returning from the sea. In fact, now that I think about it, “Sea Fever” would be the perfect double bill with ”The Beach House.”
But Brown’s direction here is what sets this film apart, as the filmmaker keeps things fast and loose, instead focusing on these four character’s specific journeys and taking advantage of their reactions in order to sell what we can’t see. There’s plenty of moments not for those with weak stomachs - including a spat with Emily’s infected foot that left this critic with his jaw on the floor.
And sometimes a simplistic, practical effect of that nature is all you need to sell the horror of the situation. A key error with most genre fare is the need to overindulge in gore and CGI gunk, and “The Beach House” deserves credit for understanding its own limitations (a small budget obviously can’t buy everything) and getting creative with the material. Does “The Beach House” always satisfy? Not entirely, and it leaves plenty of observations and characters in the dust, though if you’re a fan of low-grade indie horror, this earnest little gem is certainly worth checking out.
THE BEACH HOUSE is currently streaming on SHUDDER