The Beach House (2019) Review (Chatanooga Film Festival)

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Lianna Liberato in The Beach House (2019)

Intensity:🩸🩸 for some harrowing chase scenes and violence

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 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 an excellent 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 terribly.

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 backstories are established well enough to keep the film’s pacing quick and punchy.

Somebody has disappeared into the ocean in The Beach House (2019)

Cherubic Emily (Liana Liberato, If I Stay) is a recent college graduate seeking her Master’s in astrobiology at the University of Washington. Fun fact: There is only one school offering a degree in astrobiology, and that’s Florida Institute of Technology. Her boyfriend, Randall (Noah Le Gros, A Score to Settle), is recently a college dropout. Consequently, there is tension between them regarding what they will do with the next phase in their lives. Randall’s doctor father has a beautiful beach house. He hopes they 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. They discover a middle-aged couple currently staying at the cabin. Jane (Maryanne Nagel, Deadtime Stories) and Mitch (Jake Weber, Dawn of the Dead) claim to be old friends of “The Doc”. They 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 entirely well.

Jane isn’t well. The medicine cabinet is loaded with prescription pills. Jane and Mitch speak cryptically about what it means to be young with everything in front of you. This is not what Emily signed up for. Randall, however, convinces her that there is plenty of room for all of them. She reluctantly 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. The mist mesmerizes the group, making them believe 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 seem 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 seem to have different effects on our protagonists. Fortunately, it retreats by day, leaving the people a little bewildered but not wary. When the mist comes back for an encore, it brings some horrible news with it.

I very much appreciate that Brown allows the tension to build gradually. 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 fall for classic horror movie trope traps, mainly in the third act. The movie strongly echoes Color Out of Space, The Fog, The Mist, and 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. Even 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 make this a 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.

Review by Eric Li

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