With themes of isolation and a deadly contagion out of control, The Beach House is perfect summer viewing, for beach-friendly summertime in general, but especially for the summer of 2020 when it is all frighteningly relevant and relatable.
Borrowing from some of the best elements of classics like Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing, writer and director Jeffrey A. Brown delivers a knockout in his feature film debut, playing on our most primal fears of a mysterious living organism invading our bodies and changing us in unimaginable ways. It is gruesome, gross, and terrifying.
In a star-making performance, Liana Liberato plays Emily, a smart college student studying chemistry with a strong interest in astrobiology, which teases the horrors to come. Emily and her boyfriend, Randall, played by Noah Le Gros, arrive at Randall’s dad’s titular beach house for what they expect to be a romantic weekend of reconciliation. It is an isolated setting in a vacation resort town, before Memorial Day when the tourist season begins.
Soon after arriving, the young couple is surprised to learn that another older couple, friends of Randall’s estranged father, are already staying at the beach house. This other couple, Mitch and Jane, played by Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel, respectively, are friendly enough and invite Emily and Randall to stick around for dinner and drinks. The group eventually shares an edible marijuana chocolate bar and are feeling great as they marvel at the weird glowing fog they watch rising from the ocean after dark.
After Jane ventures down from the oceanfront house to the beach to see the blue glow up close, she immediately starts showing signs of an apparent infection, coughing and soon vomiting violently. The next morning, Jake is missing, and Randall soon too suffers intense stomach pains, leaving Emily alone on the wide, empty and beautiful beach.
Without spoiling anything, what follows involves some extreme body horror that literally had me squirming and cringing, which doesn’t happen to me often, but then I do live in a similar seaside vacation town (Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina) where the beach is within walking distance from my house, so it definitely hit home in a lot of ways.
Brown absolutely makes the most of his small primary cast, all four of which give outstanding, believable performances, and the simple but highly effective setting, which is ultimately not confined to just the beach house, but remains increasingly claustrophobic as the tension mounts throughout the flawlessly paced 88-minute runtime. While it may not be exactly unpredictable, the film is reality-based, this-could-actually-happen horror at its best. I will definitely be following Brown’s career and look forward to seeing what he does next.
With timely social commentary on paying attention to what the planet’s environment is telling us and adhering to the warnings that science provides, the ending will haunt you long after watching it.
The Beach House premieres on Shudder on July 9.
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