[CFF Review] 'The Beach House' is Squirmy Horror that Exposes the Terror Hiding in Plain Sight
Human beings have really stepped in it this time, haven’t we?...
…I’m talking about the giant pile of shit that is this pandemic, which we seemingly could’ve avoided or lessened the impact of, or hell, at least PREPARED FOR, yet here we are, trapped at home and surrounded by non-social distancing morons who have failed to grasp the seriousness of the crap on our shoes, and the reality of how difficult it’s going to be to wash it off.
Good thing the horror genre has always been around to remind our species of how big of screw-ups we are. See Godzilla and the radiation-mutated-that-ugly-thing-into-that-even-uglier-and-bigger-thing sub-genre, or any number of slasher films where the villain becomes a killer because some dumbass kids played a bad practical joke. One sub-genre that’s been around for a long time has been the infection genre, one which Cronenberg often liked to dabble in. The latest installment in the always squirm-inducing plague of infection horror offerings, The Beach House, played at the Chattanooga Film Fest this weekend, and it’s enough to freak out anyone who still doesn’t get why disease is actually the scariest villain of them all.
The debut feature of writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown, 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 Mich (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 a Lovecraftian 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. Try NOT being even the least bit creeped out by that.
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.
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.
Note to everyone: Listen to women. Always. Especially if you’re in a horror film.
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.
In a time where we’re in the middle of a pandemic, 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).
The only complaint here is that, from the beginning, The Beach House feels hopeless, with a nerve-shredding story that goes out with a much too on the nose whimper. The relationships which Brown takes careful time to build never really go anywhere, either, lessening the impact of some of the horror later on.
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 our current situation isn't as dire as in The Beach House.
By Matt Konopka
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