In an unprecedented year with a pandemic that has ravaged the world, few films have captured the uneasy terror of an unseen enemy such as disease as well as The Beach House...
…RLJE Films is bringing the debut feature of writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown to Blu-ray, and it comes at the perfect time to rewatch the film (which released earlier this year) and reflect on what it meant then, and what it means now. For those that still haven’t seen it, The Beach House is a Lovecraftian meets pandemic flick in which couple Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) head to Randall’s Dad’s beach house for a quiet vacation and some much needed working out of their issues. When they get there though, they discover some unwelcome visitors in an older couple who say they are friends of the father, Jane (Maryanna Nagel) and Mitch (Jake Weber), but they aren’t the only unwelcome guests: a terrifying plague has begun to spread in the small beach town.
Lovecraft is no stranger to infection horror. Hell, many of his stories deal with it. Even the ones you wouldn’t think of at first, such as The Shadow Over Innsmouth, when you consider it’s about people turning into mutated fish monsters. The Beach House takes Lovecraft’s lore and asks, what if an unimaginable horror rose up from the black depths of the ocean, not as a great beast, but something in our air?
That’s the terror of infection films. The slow, quiet killer. A theme which resonates throughout The Beach House.
From the opening shot, Brown sets us on edge with what would otherwise be a thing of beauty: the ocean. We watch as blue waves swell and swirl, but instead of feeling at peace, the moment is drawn out. Tense. Relentless in the way it makes something so serene seem so foreboding. Brown and cinematographer Owen Levelle consistently assault the viewer, but in ways we don’t expect. Instead of frantic cuts and loud stingers, the two build the terror of The Beach House with long shots that stretch until you want to scream from feeling like your eyes are about to snap. And the trick of it is, it’s always of something beautiful turned horrific, such as late in the film, when we watch with unblinking suspense as one character walks from the beach and all the way into the ocean until they disappear. A moment of terror which seems to go on forever.
Even the title The Beach House implies somewhere safe. Quiet. Peaceful.
But that’s how these things go, don’t they? Pandemics don’t start with a bang. They start quietly. And sunny days look just as they always did, even if something horrible is creeping through the air without us knowing. And as we’ve seen this year, it doesn’t take long before that creeping thing becomes a full-fledged monster in front of our eyes.
Before Brown crushes us with the results of the disease though, he takes the time to build up the two couples of the film, which in their own right, represent two different worlds, the old and the young, and how each handles disease. As much as we get to know and adore the endlessly charming cast, (even Randall, who is an incompetent dick), there is a never-ending tension between them all. Randall and Emily are getting reacquainted, and instead of being the supportive guy Emily wants him to be, he’s asking her to quit school and essentially give up her life to live with him, and is incapable of listening to her argument.
Now, that argument from Emily resonates similarly to the warnings we all heard in the beginning of 2020 and didn’t heed. Too much of the country decided to be like Randall and ignore the education of others.
Randall only makes it worse when they discover Mitch and Jane in the house, who claim they didn’t know Randall would be there, and invites them to stay with them for the weekend. No one in the situation is comfortable. Particularly the audience, which Brown barely ever gives time to relax before things go from uneasy to all out terrifying.
Touching way too close to home, we quickly learn that there is something in the water, which characters constantly refer to as feeling off or even “soft”. Watching The Beach House, I kept thinking about Flint, Michigan, and how badly our government failed that community, and how we can never truly trust anything we ingest, even our water. Hell, especially our water.
With what we’ve been through this year, half of viewers out there aren’t going to want to experience The Beach House, and I get it. We’re already scared enough of disease at the moment. Most of us don’t want to witness the nauseating, slimy, painfully effective body horror that occurs in The Beach House once our cast becomes infected (let’s just say it’s like The Ruins meets Lovecraftian mythology).
All of this is what makes the Blu-ray so disappointing, because like our current administration, it comes with a blank page instead of a well-executed, detailed “plan”. In this case, the disc is empty. No commentary. Not even a trailer. Brown has achieved such an accomplishment with this film, he deserves to be allowed at least a commentary, and the audience is ostensibly robbed of that. I’ll always champion physical media, but with The Beach House currently streaming on Shudder, it may be best to wait to pick up this disc until a new release with something to offer fans.
Regardless, The Beach House is a gut punch that many won’t be able to handle currently. But for those that do give it a try, Brown has lined up an utterly horrifying cautionary tale of pandemic terror that sadly comes months too late to prepare us, but maybe not too late to remind us that “life is fragile,” as Emily says, and no one should take these things lightly.
Wear a damn mask in public and be thankful that, as awful as it is, our current situation isn't as dire as in The Beach House.
The Beach House releases on Blu-ray/DVD, VOD and Digital from RLJE Films on December 15th. You can currently stream it on Shudder as well.
*The below rating applies to the film itself, and not the blu-ray*
By Matt Konopka