The Beach House (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
Somewhere inside “The Beach House” is an intimate but ambitious horror story in which microorganisms from the ocean threaten global takeover. But the work, written and directed by Jeffrey A. Brown, is a disappointment for the most part because it fails to engage viewers in ways that do not rely on the usual tropes of independent filmmaking: slow as molasses pacing, constant flashing and overexposure of lights during the climax, transitory images of nature and other curious phenomena. At times it is too artsy for its own good which distracts from the visceral experience it offers. In a movie like this, I argue it is more impactful to tell or show the story straight.
I appreciated the performances by lead actors Liana Liberato and Noah Le Gros who play Emily and Randall, a couple who decide to get away and try to put their relationship back on track. Although they expected some alone time together, it turns out that that the beach house that Randall’s father owns is already occupied by another couple, Mitch and Jane (Jake Weber, Maryann Nagel), friends of Randall’s family. I could feel Liberato and Le Gros attempting constantly to wring out every bit of emotion from a rather bland script, but there are instances when even they are unable to provide further dimensions from what is written on the page.
I wished they were challenged more because the dinner scene, for instance, when Emily and Randall describe their backgrounds and aspirations (she an aspiring scientist; he a college dropout who hopes to forge a path outside of the standard route of college-diploma-marriage-mortgage-kids), there is genuine engagement there. It made me wish to learn more about Emily and Randall, both as a couple and as individuals, outside of the horror angle of the story.
When the picture finally evolves into a full-blown body horror, it is disappointing that there is only one or two memorable scenes. While I do not require first-rate special and visual effects (there are good ones here: giant clams, worms inside feet, faces appearing to melt or decompose, goo dripping out of faucets), I do expect constant creativity whether it be in terms of expanding ideas, delivering plot surprises, or providing simple but solid scares. Instead, numerous scenes are reduced to our injured protagonists dragging their sweaty and tired bodies from one location to another.
It becomes a trial to sit through. And when we do hear news from the radio or television, which is supposed to shed light on what is going on in other coastal areas—possibly on a global scale, the announcements are barely audible, staticky, and so often interrupted or cut abruptly. Emily and Randall must then continue to find another shelter. It becomes repetitive and a bore.
While it is easy to recognize what the film is going for, there are other, better movies that have traversed similar avenues. A few that quickly come to mind: John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” Frank Darabont’s “The Mist,” Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” and, most recently, Richard Stanley’s “Color Out of Space.” When you put this film right alongside these titles, it just doesn’t stand out. I am, however, looking forward to the writer-director’s next project. I think he has the imagination, the talent, and the will to make a film worth remembering.