Emily (Liana Liberato) and her boyfriend Randall (Noah Le Gros) visit his father’s beach house for a romantic getaway. Their romantic weekend is immediately disrupted by the unexpected appearance of Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryann Nagel) – old friends of Mitch’s father. Both couples decide to make the best of it by having dinner together which ends with them all wildly hallucinating. But come the cold light of day they realise that something is very, very wrong…
Beautiful. That’s the word that kept springing to my mind as I watched Jeffrey A Brown’s extraordinary debut feature The Beach House (Brown writes and directs). Scenes of swirling mist floating like snowflakes in the air, condensation on the side of a glass, the ocean breathtaking in her bleakness, there is really something quite beautiful about the images Brown crafts. The Beach House is woozy, disquieting, cosmic Lovecraftian horror that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I watched it. It would make a fascinating double bill with Color out of Space.
The first hour plays out like a domestic chamber piece shining a spotlight on two very different relationships. Randall is a bit of a douche, full of bravado but clearly panicked at having no real direction in life. Emily is as passionate about her work as she is embarrassed by her boyfriend’s choices (her speech about her field of study is beautifully delivered). You can feel her questioning her romantic choices every second she’s on-screen. By contrast, Mitch and Jane are deeply in love but Jane’s terminal illness casts a long shadow, you see it in every line on their face and in Mitch’s hunched stance – the weight of his burden grinding him into the earth. For the first hour, we watch these couples awkwardly interact. It’s all terribly ordinary but we have the sense that something is wrong. We feel uneasy, knowing that everything is just that little bit off-kilter. Without resorting to any cheap tricks or jump scares Brown builds the tension to almost unbearable levels. When the fog comes and everything goes very cosmic and trippy it’s almost a relief from witnessing Jane’s pain and her wistful bewilderment at Randall not embracing every second of the life he’s been gifted with.
The first part of the film plays out in such a measured, deliberate way that when the shit hits the fan things escalate so quickly you don’t have a chance to breathe. A glimpse of creatures from the deep is suitably grotesque and accompanied by an injury that made my whole body clench in sympathetic horror. The pace of the film becomes frenetic as Emily and Randall must fight to survive in a changed world. I slightly wish the pace had been more balanced so that it didn’t give me whiplash by going from taut, awkward dinner party shenanigans to a cavalcade of horrors in the blink of an eye.
Jake Weber gives a lovely, understated performance as a man whose world was ending long before his fateful visit to the beach house. He’s the epitome of warmth and kindness in this and his final shot in the film haunts me.
Liana Liberato is a star in the making with a sparky screen presence that has you rooting for her every step of the way.
The Beach House is an incredibly assured horror debut, packed with eerie images and a final scene that manages to be brave, beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.
The Beach House is available to stream now exclusively on Shudder