Sometimes a movie utterly surprises you. Usually, that’s a good thing. You head in thinking a film will suck and you come out having watched a classic or there’s a fantastic change in tone or story in the middle of the movie that redefines the entire film. Maybe you think the genre is one thing and then it blends beautifully into another. Surprise can be good. It often changes cliche to creativity and morphs the standard into the incredible. The Beachouse is the opposite of this.
The first half of the film feels fresh and new but its “surprise” erases all of that into something that feels incomplete and bog-standard. A movie that seems to change halfway through but in no aid to the film as a whole. It’s a horror movie that starts out tense, psychedelic, and psychologically disturbing, with hints of the supernatural and then, with the first grotesque scene of body horror, systematically erases it all.
Director: Jeffrey A. Brown
Release Date: July 9, 2020 (Shudder)
If you’re not acquainted with Shudder its basically the best place to watch horror movies out there. Their line up is fantastic and they’re adding more and more great exclusives, like Blood Quantum. Unfortunately, The Beach House isn’t really one of these. It’s not bad but its powerful and downright disturbing beginning tails off into a movie that feels almost completely separate from what is set up initially. The two films never meld, resulting in less of a mashup of horror genres and instead two distinct movies, one of which just isn’t that exciting.
The initial set up for the movie itself is intriguing and disturbing, setting up a kind of psychedelic, psychological horror reminiscent of Giallo horror or the recent Color Out of Space. Emily (Liana Liberato) and her estranged boyfriend Randall (Noah Le Gros) head to his father’s old beach house in a small oceanfront community to reconnect. However, upon their arrival they find Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryann Nagel), a pair of old friends of Randall’s father, staying there as well. The latter pair are just slightly odd and Jane clearly has some psychological issues but Emily and Randall decide to stay with them, eventually taking some edibles late in the night.
That’s when everything starts to go wrong. A foul-smelling mist floats in from the ocean, causing strange glow, and the stoned foursome venture out in it. Little do they know that the fog is actually a part of some strange, ancient life form that’s bubbled up from the ocean’s floors to feed on people and turn them into zombies for a little bit.
It’s the first half of the film that really shines. Weber and Nagel play their characters with just the right amount of strangeness to make every conversation they have feel slightly off. It sets up what looks to be a taut thriller that eschews the normal teens on vacation trope to pit a disturbed woman and her clearly grieving husband against Emily, the obvious “final girl” of the film. Throw in the drugs and the strange mist affecting everyone’s mind and turning the beach into a mind-bending flowing location and the movie starts playing fully into its psychological horror themes.
Director Jeffrey A. Brown goes full bore into this as well. He’ll often blur the camera with odd visual effects or cut sharply to throw the viewer off. The movie cuts to long, slow shots of water and microbial ooze overlaid with each other that feel like something out of a Dario Argento movie. There’s a not-so-subtle backstory about the origins of life on earth that start playing some interesting psychological games as the first half of the film unfolds. A seriously disturbing moment between Emily and Mitch sets up some fantastic psychological horror.
Then it all goes to bust. Mitch and Joan are basically jettisoned from the film entirely as the organisms from the sea begin infiltrating the small group and the film becomes a gory zombie flick of sorts. The movie completely ditches its psychological aspects along with Mitch and Joan to ramble through its last half presenting strange and slimy creatures from the sea in total contrast to the movie’s previous mysterious handling of the infectious fog.
Here the film’s previous strengths become its greatest weakness. The film’s lack of explanation is an incredible form of tension for the first half of the movie but destroys the film’s world in the second half. The rules of the “monster” seem all over the place and its sudden physical manifestation on the beach as a bunch of jelly-like blobs takes most of its horror away. As Emily runs for her life trying to save Randall as well the movie continues to layer on its gross-out techniques eventually revealing far too much with little cohesion. Even worse, because of the dichotomy of the first half and last half of the film it feels like you’re watching the first half a zombie pandemic flick without any of the pay off at the end.
The end of The Beach House does seem to think it successfully combined the two films together, concluding on a shot that feels ripped from the first half of the film. It’s just entirely unearned thanks to the second half. The Beach House delivers an odd and intriguing movie at first, that is full of the kind of scares that keep you up at night but, much like the tide going out, it just can’t stay at that high level.