For many of us, escaping away to the beach is exactly that – an escape. A much-needed reprieve away from the chaos and fast-paced lifestyle of the city. With a gaze out to the wide-ranging expanse of the ocean, we allow our minds to wander, marveling at the mystery that resides within its depths. We only know a fraction of what lies beneath those waves and, while the ocean itself captivates us with its beauty, our lack of answers surrounding its mysteries has inspired dread in many.
Who could blame them? Many people have a rudimentary understanding of the ocean and, let’s face it, even scientists lack many of the answers as to what lies beneath the surface. Combine that with rising sea levels, increases in acidification and water temperature, and more, we lack the answers to understand how all of this will come to impact the ocean and – ultimately – us as we know it. This fear of the unknown beyond the oceanic horizon, combined with enough oceanic-based science to make this nerd content, comes together in Jeffrey A. Brown’s directorial debut THE BEACH HOUSE. While the premise was simple and the execution a bit poorly-paced, the references to oceanic science throughout the course of the film, parasitic-induced body horror, as well as that gut-punch of an ending will cement THE BEACH HOUSE as another memorable addition to the cosmic horror genre.
The story follows Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) as they escape to his family’s beach house to get away from the world and try to figure out their relationship. Emily is planning on pursuing a Master’s degree while Randall has dropped out of his Bachelor’s program with no real future plans. There is an obvious tension between the two that further increases when they realize that they aren’t alone in the home. Turns out that Randall’s dad is loaning out the place to Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane Turner (Maryann Nagel), an older couple who is friends with Randall’s dad. While things get off to a rocky start between the couples, some dinner conversation, and weed brownies help them all cut loose. However, this is when things get really strange.
A bioluminescent-inspired environmental event happens right after they get high. That coupled with a strange fog and some previously consumed, questionable looking oysters (that thankfully Emily forgoed), things start to get really weird before things fade to black. The next day, it becomes clear that something is terribly wrong. As Emily starts putting the pieces together, it becomes clear that what happened wasn’t entirely to be blamed on a bad batch of brownies. No, it becomes clear that something parasitic is starting to infect the beach community and it’s only a matter of time before they are all infected.
I’ll start off by saying as an ocean nerd, THE BEACH HOUSE made me immensely excited. However, it also made me immensely terrified due to the plausible nature of something similar like this happening in the future. Growing up in a beach town with a heavy emphasis on oceanic observation, there’s a lot going on in this film that I had to unpack. For the sake of you, the reader, I won’t go into a heavy lecture on it. However, from the reference at the very beginning of a hydrothermal vent to Emily’s discussion on chemical evolution process that commonly takes place at said vents to the vibrio-like parasite (vibrio is a bacteria that you’d find in oysters that cause gastrointestinal distress), it became clear to me that director and writer Jeffrey A. Brown did his research. And, man, did he put it to terrifying use.
With all of this research done and how exciting all of that made me, however, the overall execution was a bit rocky. The story itself is fairly simple. It’s a contagion genre film at its core, which gives it little creative room to explore. The emphasis on bacteria or parasite from the ocean to create a parasitic form of symbiotic relationship with mankind is what allows the film to stand apart from a sea – no pun intended – of contagion genre films. However, if you strip that story element away, the film itself would be drowned in its basic juices. This is the double-edged sword of relying on simplicity. There’s only so much one can do within that beach house space before you have to dial-up the intensity and propel the plot forward into more exciting, choppy waters. I think had parts of the character development period been cut or edited for time prior to the bioluminescent event, the film would have dragged less and we would have gotten to the more enriching bits sooner.
However, despite the lack of initial intensity in the film’s first act, Brown knows how to make you feel uncomfortable in the second act. Combining his direction with Liana’s performance as Emily, it’s difficult not to be made to feel on edge. This second act is also when we start diving more into the more cosmic horror side of the film. With a combination of mist that obscures the view for both the characters and the audience, the usage of color, and the mounting what-the-fuckery that is being revealed onscreen, it becomes clear that what was meant to be a simple getaway has become a futile fight to survive as this otherworldly bacterial presence spreads out and takes over everything and anything it can get its hooks into.
There will be some who will are going to be comparing THE BEACH HOUSE to Colour Out of Space. I prefer not to wade in that discourse. Instead, I’ll say THE BEACH HOUSE is a decent addition to the modern Lovecraftian horror genre, with Jeffrey A. Brown taking heavy inspiration from marine microbiology to create a chilling tale. While the execution of the pacing could have been better and the overall plot itself was simple, there’s still plenty to enjoy. There’s a gnarly body horror sequence involving a parasite that will make your tummy flip. And, what the first act lacked in intensity, the second act makes up for in spades. By the time you reach the film’s last moments, you will be left wondering about the futility of mankind’s survival and the evolutionary discoveries that may or may not decimate us in a not-so-near future.
THE BEACH HOUSE will arrive on Shudder on July 9, 2020. To experience Shudder commitment-free for 7 days, visit www.shudder.com.
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