There are some independent horror films in which all the pieces are in place for success. The cast is strong, the visuals evocative, the direction precise. It can be a movie that, for all intents and purposes, “works.” And, yet, due to the subjective nature of art, we as the viewer feel disconnected in some way. We recognize the pieces, we recognize the successes, but in trying to grab hold of something in the film our hands ultimately close on air. For me, this describes the experience of The Beach House.
The feature debut of writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown, The Beach House stars Liana Liberato and Noah Le Gros as Emily and Randall, respectively, two young people who steal away for some time alone at Randall’s family beach house. Upon arriving there, though, they discover they’re not alone: another couple, the older Jane (Maryanne Nagel) and Mitch (Jake Weber) are staying there as well. The two couples find some common ground and enjoy a night of partying in which they ingest some edibles, after which point things start to get…weird. From there, the beach paradise becomes a nightmare of mysterious fog and body horror and probably pretty unpleasant death. Not your normal vacation.
The Beach House plays like a movie bifurcated into two separate sections: there’s the long setup with the two couples co-mingling, followed by shift as things start to go bad and the film really becomes a horror movie. This structure is what’s sometimes referred to as a “slow burn,” but that classification implies that the setup directly leads into the payoff. In The Beach House, the two sections are largely unrelated. None of the events or the characterization of that first hour inform what follows in the film’s final act, and the disconnect between those two things has the unfortunate side effect of creating a similar disconnect in this particular reviewer. Once the movie shifts into high gear and embraces its strange brand of Lovecraftian horror, there are a number of effective moments and terrifying visuals – particularly an impromptu foot surgery sequence.
Film is subjective, and horror even more so. What is scary to some is not scary to others. What induces dread in one viewer doesn’t have the same effect on another. I know that there are many people for whom The Beach House will be positively dreadful in the best sense of the word. I was unable to give myself over to it, finding it too scattershot and obtuse to draw me in. It’s very well made and undoubtedly the movie that writer/director Brown wanted to make. I applaud the effort and await whatever he makes next, as he’s no doubt a talented filmmaker. That this one didn’t work for me is not an indicator that it’s a bad movie, just further evidence that we all want different things from a horror movie. The Beach House isn’t what I wanted. I may be alone on this.
Movie Score: 2.5/5