Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – The Beach House

My notes on The Beach House – now on Shudder.

A slow-burning, rather thoughtful venture into Lovecraftian apocalypse – with a layering of eco-doom, body horror gloopiness, and understated character stuff.  It has some thematic overlap with Richard Stanley’s similarly trippy Color Out of Space, but eschews looking to the stars or other dimensions for the Massachusetts seashore and a sense of the deep darks (or phosphorescence) of the oceans.

Emily (Liana Liberato), an organic chemistry student who is considering astrobiology as a post-graduate subject, has a weekend away with her somewhat aimless, self-involved boyfriend Randall (Noah Le Gros) – who has just dropped out of college for no apparent reason.  They pitch up at a beach house owned by Randall’s family, on a picturesque stretch of deserted coastline and relax into passive aggressive bickering – but pull themselves together a bit when unexpectedly joined by an older couple, ailing and daffy Jane (Maryann Nagel) and avuncular-with-a-sinister-edge Mitch (Jake Weber), who are friends of the family.

Over a boozy supper, Emily opens up about her interests – in the way life might adapt to conditions radically different than those that have supported life on Earth – and Randall suggests they tuck into edible marijuana after the wine runs out.  This leads to some pleasant, if ominous manifestations – glowing matter in the sea but also the atmosphere, a slimy thick fog – that might or might not be hallucinations.  The next morning, everyone is changed and handling it badly … Emily steps in jellyfish-like flotsam from which a worm-tendril burrows into her heel, and the others have cracked up or are melting down.  It turns out that the phenomena have affected a wide area, and Emily finds herself struggling either to survive or adapt while the others are less able to cope.

First-time writer-director Jeffrey A. Brown delivers quality creepiness, with effective throwaway manifestations – algae blooms which somehow become airborne … a shore littered with organic pods that look like fleshy Cornish pasties, which then disappear … wormy mucus matter dripping out of taps … a victim calmly walking into the sea in Star Is Born fashion … mutated folks sliming over or melding into each other down in the basement.  It’s fairly elliptical in narrative terms, getting into nature film-like microscopic visions of strange life at work – but Liberato (Haunt) anchors it with an affecting performance, especially in her eerie, repeated last line.


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