Movie Review: BEACH HOUSE (2017)

BEACH HOUSE is the debut feature from director Jason Saltiel. Starring Willa Fitzgerald (MTV’s Scream, Bloody Money), Murray Bartlett (Iron Fist, Looking), Orlagh Cassidy (Gotham, St. Vincent), and Thomas M. Hammond (Billions).

At first glance, especially after seeing the trailer, I was under the impression that this film would be very much in the vein of Luca Guadagnino’s masterpiece from last year, Call Me By Your Name. It does share a lot of atmosphere with that film. In both films there is a seemingly wealthy family spending time at their family vacation home. Both films have a young protagonist, and both films have a tall, handsome mysterious houseguest. Both films have beautiful cinematography and production design as well, but that’s where the comparison starts to lose its validity. I was pleasantly surprised with the direction BEACH HOUSE took, which I cannot reveal in its entirety but read on for a little taste.

Ella (Willa Fitzgerald) is a 22-year-old college student who is dead-set on taking a semester off to live in a squat in Berlin. Her mother, Catherine (Orlagh Cassidy), and stepfather Henry (Thomas M. Hammond) are both New York intellectuals with connections to the art world that have a house in The Hamptons. Ella has a major case of poor-little-rich-girl syndrome, claiming that her life thus far has been too boring for her to have anything to write about, which is why she wants to move to Berlin.

Then, like a bolt of blue, comes Catherine’s old friend Paul (Murray Bartlett), looking like a brooding amalgamation of Jemaine Clement and Chris Hemsworth. He has come to visit quite suddenly and he immediately fascinates Ella. Paul is the living prototype of the bad-boy photographer. He and Catherine were both artists in the 80’s/90’s Downtown New York scene, which leads me to make an immediate comparison of Paul’s work to the real live photographer/filmmaker Richard Kern. Like Kern, Paul’s work deals with dark themes and usually A LOT of nudity.

Over the course of Paul’s brief stay, he and Ella become very close. Ella spends time with Paul alone late at night when her parents are asleep and tells him her conundrum of being unispired creatively. He shows her some of his latest work, in which his ex-girlfriend Hannah was the subject. Catherine apparently met her sometime before the start of this story and by the time we meet Paul, he has already kicked her to the curb like so many of his other “muses”. The series of photos he had worked on with Hannah were based on giallo, and were very dark. Ella is both attracted and repulsed by these images, which is quite similar to how she feels about the artist.

If I go too much further into the plot, I will spoil the fun of the film for you. I highly suggest seeing this if you are a fan of slow-burning suspense, because this film offers it up by the truckload. It’s a very impressive effort for Jason Saltiel; as it’s hard to believe that this film is his (or anyone’s) first feature. I’m looking forward to seeing the trajectory of his career and hope he only continues to impress over the course of his career. Andres Von Scheele is an incredible cinematographer, highlighting the fearsome beauty of the ocean in an impeccable way, and also building a lot of unspoken emotion and mystery with his use of shadow.

Willa Fitzgerald gives a very strong performance that is half-Lolita/half-Pandora and greatly emphasizes the struggles of the young creative mind. I hope to see her in many more projects to come. Murray Bartlett is a force and is probably going to be yet another Australian actor I’ll have a ridiculous crush on for the rest of my life. Orlagh Cassidy and Thomas M. Hammond bring life and personality to their small roles and I wish I could have been raised by parents as cool as them. I hope that this film enjoys popularity beyond the festival circuit. The film is released by Border Incident Productions on June 22nd. Go see it!

Lorry Kikta
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