Director: Jeffrey A. Brown
Writer: Jeffrey A. Brown
Producer: Andrew D. Corkin, Tyler Davidson, Sophia Lin
Stars: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Maryann Nagel, Jake Weber
A college couple uses a beach house getaway to repair their troubled relationship, but becomes inexplicably trapped in a cosmic nightmare.
¡°Masterpiece!¡± ¡°Miserable!¡± Meet the Independent Party candidate for this year¡¯s most divisive horror movie.
¡°The Beach House¡± exists in a space between dour twenty-something drama and Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Somewhere between semi-commercial fright film and experimental arthouse project. In other words, it¡¯s the perfect piece for turtlenecks to musingly marvel over while annoyed audiences puzzle out its ponderousness in a war of warm takes fresh from the film festival circuit.
Gloom settles over ¡°The Beach House¡± nigh immediately. Randall and his girlfriend Emily dunk themselves so deep in ennui, it¡¯s simple to see how their romance shipwrecked. He¡¯s a recent college dropout. She¡¯s an astrobiology major with grad school goals Randall calls ¡°bullsh*t.¡± Every additional revelation about Randall, whether it¡¯s lying about his father, the callous way he ghosted Emily, or his peer pressure insistence on drug use, cements him as insufferably inconsiderate, to put it mildly. Emily still wants Randall back, because love, so she drags us along on a disaffecting relationship restoration at his father¡¯s beach house.
Randall really should have checked with dad beforehand because it turns out family friends Mitch and Jane already occupy the shoreline getaway. A three-decade age difference between the couples amplifies awkwardness. But with Mitch and Jane¡¯s welcoming nature and Randall and Emily out of alternate options, the quartet elects to make a go of it by vacationing together.
You won¡¯t need Dramamine for the water, but you may need it indoors. Over dinner, ¡°The Beach House¡± tries reinforcing its ground-level view of everyday people on a routine holiday with the most distracting handheld camera this side of ¡°NYPD Blue.¡± Desperate jitteriness appears conspicuously orchestrated as opposed to emulating an organically guerrilla style of capturing conversation. It looks like a toddler struggling to hold a top-heavy rig that weighs as much as he does.
Once the wine runs out, Randall¡¯s idea of extending the icebreaking involves everyone taking edibles. ¡°The Beach House¡± reaches the 30-minute mark somewhere in here. If you have no foreknowledge regarding the film, you¡¯ll find yourself arriving at this point still without any indication of what the story intends to set up or where it¡¯s gradually going. That¡¯s a long time, too long, to be in the dark about what kind of movie ¡°The Beach House¡± even is.
Emily, Randall, Mitch, and Jane get impossibly higher than one cannabis brownie split four ways would realistically permit. Here, ¡°The Beach House¡± starts splintering from philosophical dialogue and sleepy soap opera interactions to pay more attention to imagery. Don¡¯t expect ¡°Doctor Strange¡±-level hallucinations. Built from a small budget, ¡°The Beach House¡± visualizes individual trips using ordinary video effects that are more mesmeric for the characters than they are for viewers.
These drug-induced journeys put everyone into fugue states that carry over to the next day. Emily, Randall, Mitch, and Jane then dreamily drift in and out of scenes in which they exchange roles relevant to who momentarily disappeared, who is getting sick somewhere, and who wants to continue waxing poetic through exchanges that become increasingly cryptic. At this meandering midpoint, the realization dawns that you either have to surrender to ¡°The Beach House¡± and trust its uncertain tide will eventually wash you onto an island of intrigue, or flick the declining interest switch all the way off and accept that you¡¯ve passed the peak of no worthwhile return.
With only a half hour remaining, things get slimy, so to speak. ¡°The Beach House¡± finally completes its transformation from woozy dreamscape painting to a touch-and-feel film with physical creatures, body horror, and gristly gore.
First-time feature filmmaker Jeffrey A. Brown does some creatively creepy stuff down this home stretch. It comes with the caveat that Emily and Randall slip into a redundant loop of trying to escape a fog-shrouded home, although the bookending bits surrounding this span sport some truly eerie sights, sounds, and suggestions. A light wallet releases another moth in the form of a flashing yellow light that¡¯s called upon to maintain mood for more minutes than are reasonable.
Despite delivering on the back nine, or back six if we¡¯re being mathematically accurate, the hour investment required to cart there is a pricey fee to pay. Better balance between the long build and the brief payoff would benefit ¡°The Beach House¡± with a throughline its dryness thirsts for. In fact, consistent balance is the key challenge confronting the film.
As indicated, Randall is a drip, leaving actress Liana Liberto with nada to work with as Emily matches him in vacant enthusiasm. During the hectic climax, Emily tries rallying Randall, who has been felled by a mutative metamorphosis, by shouting, ¡°I can¡¯t do this by myself!¡± It¡¯s a laughable claim considering every aspect of their survival up until then, from conducting self-surgery to creating escape routes while carrying Randall, was performed solely by Emily.
Mitch and Jane on the other hand, have an unfulfilled backstory that hints at them having more to offer than the story allows. Jake Weber might be the ¡®That Guy¡¯ of ¡®That Guys,¡¯ an under-the-radar veteran who wouldn¡¯t dare underperform no matter how minor his role. Weber¡¯s Mitch is warm but also weird. His space-invading lean instills predictive discomfort by implying he might make an unwanted move during private talks with Emily. When that turns out to be a false flag, Mitch¡¯s monologue regarding his beloved wife¡¯s struggles flips into unexpectedly sweet sentimentality.
Weber¡¯s standout present indicates ¡°The Beach House¡± doesn¡¯t always know what it¡¯s got or quite how to use those assets effectively. Movies dosing on inter-dimensional dread almost always linger in the mind. ¡°The Beach House¡± does too, just not to the extent it could have had its wheels not spent so much time struggling to spin up to speed in the sand.
Review Score: 50