In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
The beach is gross. I don’t care for it. Sand, saltwater, sea creatures, sun, and other people — the list of things that the beach has to offer also doubles as a list of my top five least favorites things ever to exist. The beach is a total parade of discomfort and for what? A chance to get my feet tangled in seaweed while the water actively pushes me away while simultaneously stirring wet sand into every nook and cranny of my loins? Ugh. No, thank you.
I am that guy who sits in the dead center of my beach blanket, as far from both sand and water as I can possibly be, while aggressively reading a novel in the hopes of transporting my mind to some other existence where there are no beaches in sight. I hate the beach. I hate it. So when I peeped the latest Shudder original, The Beach House, I was pleased to find that it depicts the beach exactly how it should be depicted: as a disgusting horror show that no one in their right mind could ever find relaxing. At the same time that this goopy, upsetting thriller vindicated my seething hatred for the shoreline, it also tapped into my disgust in a big way. The Beach House is quite horrifying. I loved it.
Go into this one as blind as possible. I’d even recommend against watching the trailer. This is definitely a slow burn, and it’s one that plays on the audience’s preconceptions of this sort of horror, or at least the sort horror you’re conditioned to think this film might be. To have too many details revealed could effectively squelch the slow burn, which could, in turn, damage the mood — which is undoubtedly the film’s greatest strength. I’ll give you the basics:
College sweethearts Emily and Randall (Liana Liberato and Noah Le Gros, respectively) are attempting a romantic getaway to help pave over some nondescript relationship troubles. Randall’s dad has a beach house that is rarely in use, so the couple figures it’s a great opportunity to spend some quiet time together in comfort. They arrive, bang out a quickie, and take a nap. When they awaken, however, it’s immediately clear that they aren’t alone. Since Randall never warned his dad that they’d be coming by, the property is already in use by a few family friends, Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryann Nagel). It’s a bit awkward, but ultimately no big deal. The older couple is delighted to share the space with our protagonists, and before long, the foursome is eating oysters, drinking wine, and even noshing on cannabis edibles. It’s a regular party, until it isn’t. Both Mitch and Jane start acting funny, and just as a thick fog rolls in, everyone starts feeling funny to boot.
What follows is an extremely effective horror flick that, despite its localized narrative, invokes large scale existential dread. Writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown mixes strong character work and a command of tonal shifts to bring the chills, leading to a prolonged period of gruesome, upsetting body horror. A scene of impromptu foot surgery threatened to elicit a second appearance from my lunch, and as the kids say: I am here for it. What makes these fleshy, violent portions of the film so effective is that the characters are worth caring about. Brown’s script makes them all too familiar and exceptionally human. Their interactions are genuine, allowing for any exposition to manifest naturally. Both Le Gros and Liberato play their characters like a real couple with real problems who really do care about one another. As things start to get crazy, we aren’t primed to enjoy the carnage as we would be with so many horror movies. Basically, no single character feels expendable, but alas, some of them gots to go, and go they do.
With these tonal/stylistic shifts, however, moving from claustrophobic paranoia to straight up cosmic horror, one gets the sense that certain potential plot threads are left hanging. A handful of whats and whys remain as the credits roll, but in hindsight, that may be part of the trick. The Beach House is meant to play on preconceptions, planting seeds that never grow, drawing the viewer’s eye to the arid soil while a monster sneaks up and bites them in the ass. This may be difficult for some, understandably removing them from the spell of the film after the fact, but in the moment, when any hope for control is wrenched from the grasp of our protagonists, it works like gangbusters.
I hate the beach so much, and I personally have chosen to view this movie as a lovely piece of anti-beach propaganda. It’s really not that, but it is to me and I feel validated. I hate the beach.
The Beach House comes to Shudder this Friday.