This week, Shudder welcomed another stellar indie horror film to its ranks, The Beach House from writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown. Starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel, The Beach House is centered around two couples who happen to end up staying at the same seaside vacation home for a weekend. What starts out innocently enough as a cozy dinner with great conversation morphs into a living nightmare as the quartet of characters find themselves contending with a cosmic horror they cannot possibly begin to understand.
Earlier this week, Daily Dead spoke with Brown about The Beach House, and he discussed the inspiration behind the setting of his debut feature film, his approach to working with his cast and crew, and more.
Be sure to check out The Beach House now that it’s streaming exclusively on Shudder.
What initially inspired the story of The Beach House and you wanting to set out to direct a feature?
Jeffrey A. Brown: So, I approached it from a reverse engineering type of way. I come from a production background, and Sophia Lynn, who’s one of the producers, we had discussed making a low-budget movie. It was almost 10 years ago when the first sit down happened. When I was very young, I worked on some films that were from a company called Indigen. They made movies in 15 days for $150,000. Everyone got $100 a day, and all their films were like slice of life dramas, and I always wanted them to make a horror film with that kind of mentality.
So, I started with the idea of a beach house and four characters meeting there, primarily because I find that to be a popular independent film trope. Necessity is the mother of invention because when you limit factors, the cost will stay low, but I always wanted to take that idea and push it as far as we could get from four characters in a room essentially.
I’m a huge horror fan and just at a low-budget level, it gives you a sense of freedom to not necessarily take things the way that they typically go, and that’s a big thing for me. I wanted to make something that was surprising to the viewers so that they don’t know where the movie is going. It resembles other films, but my perfect audience is somebody who doesn’t know what the film is at all. At first, they think maybe it’s a psychological thriller, or maybe it’s just a slice of life indie drama. Then, maybe it’s body horror and it just keeps evolving from there.
I think there are aspects of this film that would make for a really interesting theatrical play, as the performance dynamics are so strong here. Did you and your cast get a lot of rehearsal time?
Jeffrey A. Brown: We had no rehearsals. The only actor I met before we were on location was Noah and that was when he had a fitting. We did prep in New York and in Cape Cod at the same time because most of the crew was from New York, and so he was really the only one I met with, and that was about a week before we started shooting. I would have loved rehearsal time, because you can treat it like a play, but at the same time, I think the best films are singular experiences. They’re not plays and some of the more psychedelic effects and some things like that I feel couldn’t quite work if you did it as a play. You’d be aping a movie more or less, to really try to accomplish some of the things I wanted to show visually. It is an experiential film to me.
I’m not punk rock at all, but there was definitely a feeling on this where you throw things at the wall and see what sticks. We shot it in three weeks, too. I’ve worked on movies that are very small and very big, and when you’re doing it on such a budget and time constraint, it can be tricky. Thankfully, our actors were solid and they were smart enough that we could just throw them in there and then we could all figure it out on set together.
We shot a ton of footage, too. Our DP [Owen Levelle] comes from a documentary background and I just really wanted to shoot and shoot and shoot. He lit the room as opposed to lighting the shots, so that once we were lit for the scene, we could just shoot for hours and that was more of what I wanted to do. The palette he’d established in terms of the lighting all has this very organic and naturalistic horror film feel.
It’s tough to pull off an unsettling feel to scenes that take place during the day, but you guys really manage to do it well. The beach and the brightness to everything really adds to the unsettling feeling of the story. Was it conscientious on your part that you were bucking the trend of fans expecting dark and dreary palettes from horror movies to evoke a certain mood?
Jeffrey A. Brown: I don’t know if it was super conscious; I think it was more about serving the story. The day stuff, I wanted it to have a dreamy aspect to it, and to try to accomplish something dreamy in the daylight can be a challenge, because night can be easier to accomplish something like that. Also, as a location scout, you do tend to sometimes go places that aren't being utilized because that lends itself better to filming. And so when you go to these beach communities when no one is there, they’re spooky during the day, and I was thinking if we could capture that sensibility of unease or just something being off, that was what I was looking for.
Then, I think that suspense is like walking down a hallway, and so the whole film is just like they’re walking deeper and deeper and deeper into the unknown. The world that we know is becoming unrecognizable, which unfortunately with what’s happening in the world right now, it’s happening in our reality, too. I’ve never experienced anything like what’s going on right now in the world.
There are some really ambitious effects in The Beach House, and the foot scene made me cringe so damn hard. Can you talk about working with your effects team on this?
Jeffrey A. Brown: Yeah, it was a mixture of people. Our crew was so small that everybody chipped in in some way. Our effects team I think was like literally one or two people and our production designer, Paul Rice, had a hand in a lot of the effects, too. When we moved on to bigger effects, there was an all hands on deck thing where everyone was going to get covered in goop and started doing different aspects of it. There wasn’t a lot of delineation of roles, but with the effects, everyone took over different parts of it.
But I will say, shooting sequences, especially the foot scene, is a different kind of mentality in terms of shooting something like the dinner scene, where the four actors are sitting around the table, which is more traditional, and you’re trying to capture lightning in a jar with the actors. When you get into more effects shots, it’s a much slower process, even though we were still trying to be very efficient when we shot things. I think we shot the most footage or the most set-ups that day when we shot the foot scene than any other day on the shoot. By the end of it, you’re just wiped out, but we knew that it was all working really well. And also, Liana’s performance as well really sold everything, too. She just took it on like a champ.
I love that we’re seeing more women interested in science being represented in the genre, and I think this film would make for a great double feature with Sea Fever. Was there any reason in particular that you went that way with the character of Emily?
Jeffrey A. Brown: There were a lot of drafts of this script. From the moment I started writing until the time we started shooting, I think it was around five years in between. So, when you have that much time, where I would write two or three drafts and then let it sit for a couple of months, then I’d send it out. When we were trying to get the funding together, Emily was always the main character from the get go, and I think there was a little bit more with the Jane character, which happened later on in the film, but that didn’t quite make the cut.
I never even thought about the final girl trope, I just always saw the Emily character as the brains of the operation, for want of a better word. It all just came out that way.