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New Release Review [Shudder] - THE BEACH HOUSE

the beach house review
A sinister force emanating from the ocean ruins a young couple's seaside getaway.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jeffrey A. Brown

Starring:  Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, Maryann Nagel

the beach house poster


In human history, 12 of us have gone to the moon. It's a small figure, but it's four times the number of people who have descended to the depths of the Mariana Trench, the lowest point of the ocean floor. Despite it occupying over two thirds of the Earth's surface, as much as 95% of our planet's Ocean remains unexplored. We arguably know more about our universe than the sub-aqua world that lies beneath our own. We constantly surmise about aliens arriving from outer space, but what if an extra-terrestrial presence has been lurking beneath us all this time and suddenly decides to surface and make dry land its own?

That's the premise of first time writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown's economically crafted modern b-movie The Beach House. Young lovers Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) have reunited after a period of estrangement brought about by the latter dropping out of college amid an existential crisis. As troubled couples in movies are so often wont to do, Emily and Randall take a trip to Randall's father's beach house on the New England coast in an effort to reignite the fires of their passion.

the beach house review


Emily and Randall's alone time is quickly interrupted when they realise that somebody else is living in the house - middle-aged couple Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryann Nagel), friends of Randall's old man. Emily and Randall offer to leave but Mitch and Jane insist they stick around, as the house is plenty big enough for both couples. That night the two generations bond over wine and oysters, and when Randall pulls out some edible marijuana, he's surprised when Mitch and Jane readily agree to partake. It's strong stuff, and soon all four are pleasantly wasted. Mitch even hallucinates the trees outside the house covered in some glowing blue matter, except it's no hallucination, as the other three all see the same thing.

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The following morning, or rather afternoon, Emily wakes with a throbbing hangover. But that's the least of her worries. Something's not quite right. Why are Mitch and Jane acting so strangely? Why does Randall feel so sick? What are those odd molluscs lining the beachfront? Where the hell is everyone?

the beach house review


Brown's thriller is a low-key affair, making do with a small cast and a limited geographical setting, but like Night of the Living Dead or The Thing, it uses its isolated setting in a way that suggests its protagonists are acting out merely one of millions of similar stories that might be playing out across the world. When a thick, toxic fog rolls in, our reluctant heroes find themselves trapped as the seaside town turns into something resembling a cross between The Fog's Antonio Bay and the vision of Hell at the climax of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond. It's a clever move on Brown's part, as with nothing more than a fog machine and the flashing amber light of a discarded coast patrol vehicle, he creates a distinctly claustrophobic atmosphere. What lurks in the mist is left largely ambiguous, though we do get glimpses of its horrifying effects on human victims.

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Brown pulls from various sources (there's a lot of Hitchcock's The Birds and Colin Eggleston's classic Australian nature-turns-nasty thriller Long Weekend here, not to mention a chilling reverse reworking of Laurence of Arabia's most famous sequence), but his primary influence appears to be Lovecraft. Along with its Massachusetts setting, The Beach House is essentially a riff on Lovecraft's story of alien invasion 'The Color Out of Space', though here the threat comes not from up there but out there. If you've seen Richard Stanley's recent screen adaptation of that work, much of The Beach House's narrative will feel eerily familiar, from the unearthly colour that sheathes the landscape to the almost Body Snatchers like way it appears to take hold of people's minds.

the beach house review


But for all the existing sci-fi/horror ingredients Brown throws into his narrative pot, he manages to make The Beach House a distinctively flavoured chowder of his own. This is largely down to the human drama that remains centred amid the apocalyptic extinction event that takes hold. Human life is threatened by this strange force from the sea in what seems a rapidly advanced stage of evolution. This idea is echoed in the character of Jane, who relies on pills to ward off some form of early senility. Mitch speaks of his heartbreak at seeing his wife transform before his eyes. When Randall moans about the purposelessness of existence, Jane chides him, telling him he should be happy he has a future, a statement which possibly serves as a sickly pre-emptive pun.

Like so many horror heroines before her, Emily starts off in a state of flux, a victim of sorts to her inability to leave Randall, whom she clearly has no real future with. Early on, Randall mocks her decision to spend several years studying the heady subjects of chemistry and astro-biology, but when the mist and molluscs descend, it's Emily's scientific knowledge that proves their best chance of survival. Like The Thing, this is a case of a smart person facing a threat with the backing of their education and intellect, but no amount of book learnin' can prepare us for what might someday emerge from the sea and decide our time on land is up.

The Beach House is on Shudder from July 9th.




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