Writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown’s debut feature, The Beach House got a fair amount of buzz when it opened the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. Enough of a buzz that it almost immediately got picked up by AMC’s horror streaming service Shudder. And with good reason. Like many films, it starts out with the cliche of a troubled couple going to a secluded house to work things out. But when it adds Lovecraftian horrors from the sea and pandemic themes, it becomes a nightmarish vision of the end of the world.
Emily (Liana Liberato, Haunt, If I Stay) and Randall (Noah Le Gros, Depraved) are a college couple. Or were until he dropped out of school and out of sight. That’s just part of what they hope to work out at his family’s beach house. However, it seems his father also told another couple Mitch (Jake Webber, Dawn of the Dead, Midway) and Jane (Maryanne Nagel, Clown Town, The Russian Bride) they could use it.
Despite the age gap the two couples bond over wine and what seems like highly potent edibles. But when Emily wakes up the next day, Mitch is missing and something is very obviously wrong.
The Beach House opens with a beautiful shot of the ocean. Then takes us beneath the surface to reveal some unknown dark substance spewing from a fissure on the ocean floor. Then it introduces its human characters. This is a bit underwhelming. Randall is an asshole who seems to think Emily should drop out of school and throw her future away as well. The fact she doesn’t want to is irrelevant to him. The whole first part of The Beach House is pretty much similar. Lots of dialogue, frequently awkward, uncomfortable and punctuated with bits of foreshadowing of what’s to come. It felt like a bad drama and I had trouble staying interested.
Thankfully once we finally get past this, things pick up nicely. Brown builds up a nice sense of unease as we see that something is wrong. But we can’t get a fix on just what. And then, with a quietly horrifying scene, the apocalypse is announced. And while the announcement was subtle, nothing else in the last act is.
The final act more than makes up for the slow start. It wrings every possible bit of tension out of the situation. And every bit of production value from the budget. The Beach House does a better job of making the audience believe the world is ending than most films with scenes of mass destruction can.
With its scenes of painful self-surgery, body transformations and use of bizarre lighting, The Beach House feels almost like a low budget counterpoint to Color Out of Space. That’s not surprising as Lovecraft’s story was one of the film’s inspirations. So are Rabid and The Brood. Though it was a scene that made me think of Cronenberg’s Shivers that really had me squirming in my chair.
Mixing doom and despair with some trippy visuals The Beach House is a captivating and disturbing film. It will debut on Shudder July 9th.