★★★★ out of ★★★★★
The Beach House is a compact and well-paced Cosmic Horror tale. A young couple trying to sort out their relationship go to a New England beach house to address their issues, only to find something very sinister is brewing on the beach.
Directed by Jeffrey A. Brown
H.P. Lovecraft was a gloomy man who, like Poe before him, and King after him, used the sometimes harsh conditions of New England as the backdrop for his tales of dread. The Beach House takes much inspiration from the Lovecraft’s stories of unfathomable doom, but in contrast to the gloomy Arkham environment, New England has never looked better.
Filmed in North Truro, Massachusetts, with its pristine white beaches, azure water, and cute as a button shingled cottages, the Beach House of the title appears to be the perfect getaway. Director Jeffrey A. Brown, makes his longtime career of being a movie Location Scout pay off. This is a great setting for the movie. The fact that the place looks a little too good to be true is part of the power of the flip, when things go really bad.
This is Brown’s first feature film, and smartly, he has decided to show, not tell the audience what is happening, and allows for some fill-in-the-blank moments. The cast is small, and the back stories are established well enough to keep the pacing of the film quick and punchy.
Cherubic Emily (Liana Liberato, If I Stay) is a recent college graduate, who is looking to get her Master’s Degree in astrobiology at the University of Washington. (Fun fact: There is only one school offering a degree in astrobiology, and that’s Florida Institue of Technology) Her boyfriend, Randall (Noah Le Gros, A Score to Settle), is recently a college dropout, and there is now some tension between Emily and Randall as to what they will do with the next phase in their lives. Randall’s doctor father has a beautiful beach house, and Randall is hoping that the two of them can live a life of ease in this idyllic setting while they figure things out. Emily, however, has already figured out what she wants, and it isn’t this.
Before the two of them can settle into this idyllic abode, they realize that they are not alone in the house. A middle-aged couple, Jane (Maryanne Nagel, Deadtime Stories) and Mitch (Jake Weber, Dawn of the Dead) are old friends of “The Doc” and have been guests (or are they squatting?) at the beach house for some time. They seem benign enough, but there are signs that not all is completely well.
Jane isn’t well. The medicine cabinet is loaded with prescription pills, and Jane and Mitch speak cryptically about what it means to be young, with everything in front of you. This was not what Emily signed up for, but Randall convinces her that there is plenty of room for all of them, and she agrees to give the four’s company a try. To help break the ice, Randall breaks out some CBD edibles, and reluctantly the whole group decides to get high.
A strange and colorful mist drifts in from the ocean, and it has the group mesmerized, believing that this is the effect of getting stoned. It’s not. It’s a malevolent evil cloud that is bringing destruction with it. But the first wisps of the mists seems benign… at first.
The movie is only 88 minutes long, and the third act is where the movie becomes something of a conventional horror movie. The horrible transforming powers of the mist seems to have different effects on our protagonists, but it retreats by day, leaving the people a little bewildered but not wary. When the mist comes back for an encore, it brings some seriously bad news with it.
I very much appreciate that Brown allows the tension to gradually build. The slight peculiarities of Jane and Mitch. The recklessness of Randall. There are some moments where you want to yell at the screen though, as our protagonists end up falling for classic horror movie trope traps, mostly in the third act. The movie strongly echoes Color Out of Space, The Fog, The Mist, and also Night of the Living Dead, with the AM radio reporting apocalyptic doom and the furious mad stumble that is the conclusion to the film.
This is a gorgeous film to watch, and though the third act falls into a bit of been-there-seen-that, the strong acting performances, and the subtle beauty of the movie’s plot and place makes this a very worthwhile watch.
The Beach House had its US debut at The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival last October and is one of the feature attractions in this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival streaming offerings. The movie is not rated, but it would be a modest R rating, most likely in the MPAA.
No trailer available yet, but we will post it once it shows up.