SPOILERS. If you have not seen this film, do not read anymore. Stop. Go watch the film, and then read ahead!
I was all geared up to start this film review (uh, running commentary) with, “Hey folks, I’m finally doing a 2020 film!” and lo and behold, the film was released in September … 2019, and only became available on Shudder on July 9, 2020. That film is horror film The Beach House.
Stepping into the director’s chair for the first time for a feature length film, and the scribe, is Jeffrey A. Brown. There’s not much to go on with his IMDb other than that he primarily seems to have been a location manager for scores of films throughout the 21st century, including 2007’s Spider-Man 3.
I’m not familiar with three of the four main actors in this: Liana Liberato (who plays Emily), Noah Le Gros (who plays Randall), and Maryann Nagel (who plays Jane). On the other hand, Jake Weber (who plays Mitch), was in Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of George A Romero’s 1978 film Dawn of the Dead. His character (Michael) was actually one of the better parts of that film.
One another production note I’m able to glean from my research is that Low Spark Films, which produced this film, also did 2012’s Compliance, one of the most affecting, difficult-to-watch thrillers of the 2010s. I highly recommend it, if you’re not squeamish (in a different sense than gore, if that makes sense).
The synopsis reads, “Escaping to his family’s beach house to reconnect, Emily and Randall find their off-season trip interrupted by Mitch and Jane Turner. As the couples start to bond, a strange environmental phenomena begins and as the effects of the infection become evident, Emily struggles to make sense of the contagion before it’s too late.”
Can I just say, I love that this actually was filmed in 2019, long before COVID-19 was a word in anyone’s mouth? Amid a pandemic, let’s watch a film about … contagions! I mean, to be fair, I’ve already seen 2011’s Contagion and 1995’s Outbreak earlier this year, so I’m right on message.
Finally, one last note before I click “play.” This film, like a lot of horror films, finds that nice sweet spot of being only 87 minutes (and that includes credits, mind you).
I’m five minutes in and I have to remark already on how beautiful the location is and the film itself is. The film was shot at producer Andrew Corkin’s father’s North Ruro residence in Cape Cod during the off season. It’s all pretty to look at it, offset with some ominous, unseen, and not-yet-known tension. That’s a classic juxtaposition in film, no matter the genre, but it particularly works well with horror: Paradise besieged by something sinister.
I also can’t go this far into the movie without remarking that Noah Le Gros bears a striking resemblance to a young Skeet Ulrich as Billy Loomis in 1996’s Scream!
Am I crazy?!
Turns out the tension isn’t just whatever (the contagion presumably) is lurking outside, but also what’s lurking between Emily and Randall. They have had some prior issues and seem to think coming to the beach house would solve those issues. Unfortunately, this older couple sprouts up like an unwanted weed through the base boards.
Welp, I’m hooked now. And then Randall reels me in further by being my spirit animal, as someone who dropped out of university and, speaking to Mitch and Jane, says, “What’s the point of an education? Just to get a job? I mean, there has to be something else.”
Preach, my Ghostface-looking brother!
I’m cracking up at Mitch having his first high trip from eating milk chocolate marijuana edibles. He’s washing his hands and goes, “Such soft water.”
I’m not normally someone who is into electronic music, but I have to interject to point out that Roly Porter, a British electronic musician, who did the film’s score, did a commendable job. I keep going back to this word, but the score is tense. And to go back to another word: Porter is evoking an interesting juxtaposition where he’s using a score that seems similar to something one might see in a science fiction film overlayed with shots of space, but here, the score is overlayed with shots of the deepest parts of the ocean. Which, if you think about it, the deepest parts of the ocean are more mysterious and unknown to us than space, at least our own galaxy.
In a gorgeous, weird scene, Jane walks out toward the beach and into trees and shrubs covered in glowing microbes. It looks like something out of a science fiction film. But it’s also unsettling because you’re not quite sure what’s going on yet.
Well, that’s a disturbing scene. Mitch gives a heck of a monologue about watching Jane dying in front of him without him being able to do anything about it from some sort of illness, and then he gets up, says everything is fine, and that he’s going for a swim. He wades into the water, as the camera hangs back on the beach and his head gets smaller and smaller until it disappears under the surface of the water. Emily watches on without being able to do anything but scream, “Mitch!” in vain. Then when she gets too close to the water, we get some great gross out, making my SKIN CRAWL shots when she accidentally steps into some sort of … something, and it wraps around her foot, and GOD IT IS GROSS. GET ME OUT OF HERE.
Gross gross gross gross.
That is some of the most effective skin-crawling gross-out special effects I’ve seen in some time. I should say, I’m an absolute coward when it comes to anything like bugs and flesh-eating microbes or whatever that was.
OH MY GOD, there is SOMETHING inside of HER FOOT. She uses tongs to pull some long worm-looking thing out of her foot and I am dying. Goodness.
Okay, and it does not relent because then Jane starts reminding me of The Exorcist by crawling down the hall after Randall and Emily. It’s freaky as hell.
This is like a mix between Dawn of the Dead, The Fog, and pick your gross-out movie. When the fog comes rolling in at dusk and all the crap is hitting the fan, as Emily and Randall (who is all messed up from Jane) are trying to get away, it is a stunning aesthetic though. Well, it’s not fog. We get that confirmed. Yikes.
It all seems to be going back to what Emily was saying: The earth is reverting to how it was at the beginning, and all life is literally boiling to death. At least, complex organisms like us. That doesn’t explain the zombie-like behavior though. Randall’s transformation into … whatever that is, is hard to watch, but again, it’s great special effects, particularly with sound too. There’s a lot of unsettling guttural and labored breathing noises.
Emily partly defends herself and, I like to think, partly puts Randall out of his misery, by bashing his head in with an oxygen tank. What a scene.
The ending montage with Emily seeming to give up and accepting her fate to return to the bag of microbes she is, and the dramatic music playing with microbe slides … gorgeous and horrifying at the same time. Inevitable is the word that came to mind. And there’s beauty and horror in that word.
Whew. You know that feeling you get after something particularly intense where you were holding your breath to get through it? I apparently did that for 87 minutes because that’s how I felt at the end of this.
I’m trying to think of an analog in terms of a movie that made my skin crawl to this extent, and perhaps it’s 2005’s The Descent? That horrified me in the same sort of way.
What a film. Honestly, a bit blown away by it. I didn’t expect it to be what it was. It was a nice slow burn (given 87 minutes) horror/science fiction blend, with special effects that reminded me of the 1950s and/or 1980s (in a good way), and both horrified me in terms of the atmosphere and events, and the gross-out horror. Thanks to Emily being a character who is into chemistry, and Mitch giving that older person perspective, we also got a layer of intelligence that helps to elevate the film. Add in a killer score that accentuates that blend of horror and science fiction, and I think you have the trappings of one of the most memorable horror films of the 2010s.
I’m not the only who was blown away. With 104 critics reporting on Rottentomatoes, the film has an 81 percent, with the following consensus, “An intriguing and unsettling debut for writer-director Jeffrey A. Brown, The Beach House offers a delightfully grim getaway for fans of imaginative, ambitious horror.”
UNSETTLING. That’s my one word, all-caps review of this film. That fits.
If there’s one criticism I have of the film is that the producers did a total disservice to this film by calling it The Beach House. I’m not sure, offhand, what I would have called it, but The Beach House does not in capture that horror/science fiction blend or anything we see in the film on a horror level. I don’t know, call it Micro or THERE IS A WORM IN MY FOOT, but not The Beach House.
This one is going to linger in my head without question, both because I’m trying to interpret the events of the film and because it horrified me.
Perhaps you’ve made it this far and you’re still not sure where I stand on the movie: I loved it, and if for some reason you’re a weirdo who doesn’t mind spoilers and read this far without having seen the film, go watch this film. And report back! I’d love to know what you think!