Let me start off by being very honest; I expected to be fully underwhelmed by this movie. And, to be further honest, I didn’t change my mind for quite some time. The first, probably, third of this movie is, aside from the heavy atmospheric music, a pretty standard flick about some privileged white people. And it’s not helped by the title, The Beach House, which sounds like the title of a Christopher Pike book I would have read in middle school. It is actually an apocalyptic infection film coming to Shudder in just a few days.
We start with Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) arriving at Randall’s family’s beach house to work on their largely unspecified problems. Mostly, Randall is kind of dismissive and Emily feels like a bit of pushover. They have sex immediately before looking around the house, like you do. After, Emily ventures out to the rest of the house where she quickly discovers many, many signs they are not alone and is still somehow confused when another person enters the house. Emily. Come on.
A few awkward conversations later, we’ve learned that Mitch and Jane Turner (Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel) are old family friends and staying at the house with the blessing of Randall’s father. Who Randall did not speak to before coming to the house. It’s cool, though. There’s plenty of room for everyone, right?
I’m not really sure there is, movie. I mean, it’s hard to have deep, honest relationship saving conversations even without other vacationing people in the next room. Furthermore, our first introduction to Jane is when Emily finds her medication in the bathroom cabinet. I didn’t catch all of them, but I’m pretty sure I saw Haldol and Ondansetron, which are often used in palliative or end of life care. The implication throughout the rest of the movie is that she is dying from something other than just being in a horror movie. This is her and Mitch’s last hurrah before she’s gone. It seems like both of these couples have strong reasons to not be hanging out with strangers?
Can I do a quick aside about Jake Weber? Listen, I’m sure he’s a cool guy IRL. And I can only really think of a few times I’ve seen him on screen, this movie and the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. And in both films, it feels like it’s not enough for us to think he’s a good guy. We need to think he’s the best guy. It’s all a bit over the top to the point of making me feel a bit uncomfortable. Maybe, maybe, this film wants him to be the foil for Randall here, but I just don’t think there’s enough parallelism in the two relationships to make that work.
Stylistically, my favorite parts of the film come during one of my least favorite scenes. After the four of them drink a bottle of wine and come up with only another bottle of wine to continue drinking, Randall decides to break out exactly one weed infused, square-shaped chocolate bar. The college students explain edibles to these full on adults as these adults have, apparently, never voted on whether or not weed should be legal. As if they didn’t live through the seventies and eighties. As if the movie hasn’t all but told us Jane is going through some serious illness that CBD oil or weed would have defo been mentioned as an option. Naw. Silly adults. Let them react like this.
So, they all get high. And, listen, I will forgive a little of this because the movie does go through some effort to establish that something infection related is happening to them at this point. But weed is still not ecstasy.
But then we get the crowning glory scene. There’s something bioluminescent in the water that’s catching on the wind and blowing across the beach to land in the foliage. It’s breathtaking. In this moment, the movie feels beautiful and dangerous. It slips into the same weird and brilliant territory as Annihilation, Color Out of Space, and Mandy.
Wisely, at this point, the group splits. Jane wanders off to the trees and, for a beautiful, shining moment, The Beach House slips into the same weird and brilliant territory as Annihilation and Color Out of Space before the scene ends and we’re shot back to the mundane of the following morning.
We’re treated to more very tense, broad daylight beach scenes. And, honestly, they’re not bad. I appreciate a movie that can make a sunny beach feel ominous. It’s also at this point the absolute lack of people starts to feel strange. We know it’s early in the season, but still. Emily and Randall have the entire beach to themselves.
Then the script goes and interrupts it with Randall’s weird bathroom needs. He gets some tummy rumblings, then runs off back to the house to use the bathroom. As he leaves, Emily is asking if he’s ok and he says, “I gotta use the bathroom. It’s a guy thing.”
Randall. My dude. You just asked this girl to live with you. She knows you poop. She poops.
There are so many of these weird little moments in the script where the characters feel a little less like people and more like the idea of people. It’s probably my biggest gripe about this film. And it’s made even more annoying because it seems like such an easy thing to fix. Just a little more tweaking on the dialogue and this could have been eliminated. Entirely.
Once the movie has everyone split up again, Mitch mysteriously returns to join Emily on the beach. They have a strange conversation that ends with him saying, “I think I’ll go for a swim,” then heading into the water. Listen, everything up to this point has been the set dressing for the people waiting in the queue. This is your last chance to get off this ride. It’s here where my notes on the movie start to get really sparse. In fact, here. Enjoy my notes.
The end of the movie is so almost amazing. We get some high key pretty shots with strange lighting and swirling fog. I’m not sure what happened to the bioluminescence. It would have been amazing to see will-o-wisps in the fog. I wish they’d been able to keep that visual thread going.
They could have done so much with their ocean zombies, but after movies like Annihilation, just making them goopy and gelatinous feels like a let-down. Maybe it’s not fair to compare the two? I’m sure they had vastly different budgets.
In the end, I think I really kind of love this movie. It’s close enough to the shimmery, fantasy-inspired horror that I’ve grown to love in the past few years that I can forgive the awkwardness of the script.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Jeffrey A. Brown
Writer(s): Jeffrey A. Brown
Stars: Liana Liberator, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, Maryann Nagel
Release: July 9th, 2020 (Shudder)