The Beach House – Review

Horror, Science Fiction, Mystery | 88 Min
The Beach House Horror Movie Review
  • Release Date: 09 Jul, 2020
  • Director: Jeffrey Brown
  • Actors: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Maryann Nagel, Jake Weber
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • Parental Guidance: Language, drug use, body horror, injury detail, some sexual content
  • Writers: Jeffrey Brown
  • Producers: Andrew D. Corkin, Tyler Davidson, Sophia Lin
  • Horror, Science Fiction, Mystery | 88 Min

A romantic getaway for two troubled college sweethearts turns into a struggle for survival when unexpected guests - and the surrounding environment - exhibit signs of a mysterious infection.

Welcome to Knockout Horror. Today we are taking a look at Shudder Original horror movie The Beach House. Written and directed by Jeffrey Brown, this movie represents his feature directorial debut. It’s been around for a few years now after releasing in 2019. Despite its age. It still seems to be fairly popular on the horror exclusive streaming service.

The question is, is this Lovecraftian genre film worth your time? I am sure that combination of words is enough to inform you of what you are getting into here. I absolutely hate the term Lovecraftian horror. It feels like such a lazy way of describing a film. Especially give how wide ranging Lovecraft’s influence was on horror. Still, it is what it is. As with many other movies described as Lovecraftian. This is a very by the numbers science fiction with cosmic horror undertones. It’s fairly bland and doesn’t set itself apart. You have seen this type of movie a millions of times before.

Still, I am sure this will appeal to some. A fairly decent level of intrigue and tension buoys up the first half of the movie. It is quickly replaced by a heavy action focus and a ton of body horror. There are a few things to like here, let’s check it out. As always, I will give a quick, spoiler free, breakdown of the movie. Feel free to skip that if you like.

The Beach House – Synopsis

The Beach House follows the story of couple Emily and Randall. We learn that the pair have been having some relationship difficulties. Randall, seemingly, left Emily without giving her an explanation. The two are now back together and hoping to rekindle their passion. Arriving at Randall’s family’s beach house. The pair head upstairs, eager to bump uglies after the long journey. Randall suggests that they move into the house on a permanent basis. Emily’s commitment to her education does not afford her the freedom to do that. Frustrated at the suggestion, she heads to the bathroom.

Heading downstairs, Emily is shocked to realise that they are not alone. She retrieves Randall and the two confront the unexpected guests. It turns out that they are friends of Randall’s parents. Deciding to make the best of a bad situation. The group spend a night together drinking, eating, and taking drugs. What, for a moment, seems like a bad trip. Actually seems to be due to a mysterious fog enveloping the area. It isn’t long before things begin going drastically wrong.

Run of the Mill

So as you may have guessed, this is fairly basic stuff. Movies featuring invasive pathogens infecting a population are rather common. They never tend to deviate from a set norm and the genre, as a whole, is rather stale. There is really only so much you can do with a concept like this. You are either watching a story of survival. Or you are watching characters journey to escape the infection. The Beach House tries to do a bit of both. Unfortunately, falling a bit flat in both departments.

The Beach House Horror Movie Review

Where movies like this can separate themselves. Is in the level of tension and the presentation of symptoms. The infection itself almost always spreads in one of a few ways. In the case of The Beach House, it is via a thick fog rolling through the area. The fog seems to consist of microbes that were once contained within rocks deep in the sea. Global warming has caused the release and spread of the microbes. The result is something that travels freely and infects on entering the body. Victims display a range of symptoms and seem to begin hosting parasitic worms.

A Film of Two Halves

The Beach House is a movie of two halves. The first half sees the group spending a night together. They consume marijuana edibles and drink alcohol. A strange fog comes into the home leading the characters to pass out. The next day they wake feeling rather rotten. We witness the characters suffer an escalation of symptoms. All of a sudden, the pace switches. The movie quickens up and turns into more of a survival horror. The characters attempt to escape the fog. All the while encountering one or two mutated victims and hazards on the way.

The Beach House Horror Movie Review

It’s a strange mix and makes for a movie with something of a split personality. Those who are enjoying the slow, considered pace of the first half. Will likely be disappointed to see the movie abandon much of the intriguing build. Others who were bored by the relative emptiness of the opening 40 minutes. May find themselves suddenly enjoying the more action packed focus. I personally found myself to be rather unenthused throughout. The Beach House simply didn’t do much for me. This is a type of movie that I feel has little to offer, anyway. The fact that Jeffery Brown does nothing new with the concept doesn’t help matters.

Not Quite Sure What it Wants to Be

Despite the similarities with other similar genre horror. This is a film that tries to set itself apart. It attempts to do this through its message and elements of plausible deniability. Although drug use muddies the waters of reality here. The narrative leans heavily into exposition through eco-conscious, scientist in waiting, Emily. The Beach House rings the climate warning bell. The consequences of human actions are hard to predict and wide ranging. When combined with the group’s consumption of a hallucinogen. This is a movie that isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. Is it a warning regarding the state of our world? Is it a bad trip? Or are those elements simply intended to be relatable to the target audience?

The Beach House Horror Movie Review

Relatability is somewhere where this film struggles. Randall and Emily are not a particularly likeable couple. Privileged and, in their own specific ways, very self righteous. The pair are not easy to care about. Older couple Mitch and Jane offer hints at a deeper, more tragic, story. These hints, like much in The Beach House, are never expanded on. This is a movie of unfinished ideas and unrealised potential. Much of that can likely be blamed on a restrictive style of film-making. This is a movie that feels claustrophobic for its lack of scope. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio tightly frames a world that feels constricted and small.

Set predominantly in a beach side house. The restrictive shots of the beach fail to capture the scale of the issue. When the film moves away from the house. It feels as though the director had rigidly defined boundaries to work within. Limited locations and a bland set offer a feeling of insignificance. As though the problem is confined to one small are and is barely a problem at all. It’s hard not to imagine the film would have benefited from staying within the house. Moving away from it seriously sacrifices elements of tension. It also makes it clear that the budget here was likely limiting the director’s vision.

Plenty of Positives

There are positives, though. Practical effects are, generally, fantastic. Some of the mutations look suitably disgusting. Elements of body horror are particularly welcome. On top of that, character’s presentation of symptoms can be stomach turning. It’s very nicely done. The final half an hour is particularly noteworthy for this. As certain victims go through the stages of the illness. You genuinely buy into how uncomfortable and horrific it must be. Actors really commit to making the events they are experiencing believable. It’s effective stuff.

There are no scares, as is common with movies like this. That’s not really the aim of these types of movie, though. The idea is to build up suspense and create an atmosphere of desperation. The movie does do a fairly good job of that. You will likely want to know what is causing the strange behaviour of the characters. You will also, likely, enjoy their attempts to survive and escape. The plot is fairly compelling. There are hints at something fascinating causing the issues. Nothing is ever really expanded on, though. Much of the movie’s runtime is wasted on the group tripping balls and drinking. By the time the less than satisfying ending comes along. You are left with a distinct feeling that they ran out of time.

The Beach House Horror Movie Review

I am sure many viewers will really enjoy the Lovecraftian elements. Questions of the universe and the human race’s place in it form a central theme. The thought that we could be wiped out in a matter of days, due to our own neglect. Is an interesting, and relevant, concept to throw around in a movie like this. It feels all the more apt given the recent crisis of the past few years. The more visceral elements of Lovecraftian horror are nice to see, as well. Grotesque mutations and oozing, jelly-like, growths and wounds abound. It’s interesting stuff that is always welcome. If not a little predictable in these types of genre films.

Decent Acting but Lacking Cinematography

Acting is generally fine. I didn’t value Liana Liberato’s performance, as Emily, as much as other people did. She comes on towards the later part of the film. For the most part, however, I felt her performance was flat. Especially for a character tasked with carrying much of the movie’s weight. She seems to have a tendency to look either confused or angry, most of the time. Something quite common in actors who struggle to emote. I also found her delivery to be nasally. This isn’t helped by the film’s lousy sound production. There are a lot of echoes, especially indoors. Scenes featuring characters shouting are particularly annoying.

Noah Le Gros, as Randall, will probably annoy people initially. His character’s slacker personality offers Noah little room to work. He really comes on well towards the end of the movie, though. He engages in some fantastic, and thoroughly believable, physical acting. Jake Weber, as Mitch, does a great job. A veteran actor, he instantly appears to feel far more comfortable than everyone else. Maryann Nagel is absolutely fine. She also has some very effective moments of physical performance that are impactful.

The Beach House Horror Movie Review

Cinematography was a bit of a mixed bag. I hate the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for this type of film. The potential for wide angle shots of gorgeous, scenic, beach vistas is wasted. Instead we have tight closeups and restricted scenic views. I think it really offers the movie a feeling of cheapness. Like a Hallmark production or made for TV horror movie. Directing was okay. Pacing was a bit messy. A lumbering opening 45 minutes suddenly hits full speed and doesn’t let up. It’s a bit uneven. I noticed a lot of continuity issues throughout, as well. All in all, its a bit of a mixed bag.

Is it a Knockout?

The Beach House is a Lovecraftian genre film with some interesting ideas. For me, it never really managed to deliver on them. Uneven pacing leaves this feeling like a film of two halves. A slow considered opening gives way to a fast paced, thrill a minute, finale. The result is a movie that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. Couple this with the climate change message and fairly irrelevant bad trip experienced by the characters. And what is left is a film with a lot of ideas but a messy execution. The unsatisfying end does nothing to offset these issues.

Generally decent acting and fantastic practical effects do much to help. Some fairly effective tension will likely keep many viewers engaged. The fact that this world feels so constricted undermines the severity of the situation, though. The locations are limited and leave you feeling as if the action should never have left the house. Still, fans of these types of genre films will likely find plenty to like. The slow burn nature of the movie is welcome and the body horror elements are particularly effective. The Beach House just didn't do anything for me, though. It felt painfully familiar and completely lacking in intrigue. I do think it will appeal to many, despite this.

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