Review: The Beach House

A couple on a getaway slowly realise they ought to run away in Jeffery A Brown’s debut feature – a creepy biological contamination horror, available now on Shudder.

Emily (Liana Liberato, Novitiate and Nicolas Cage thriller Tresspass) and Randall (Noah LeGross, Larry Fessenden’s Depraved) are a young couple with relationship issues. When they skip away to spend a few nights at Randall’s dad’s beach house in an isolated seaside town, certain distractions get in the way of a proper relationship chat. There’s the eerie calm of the possibly abandoned town, the unexpected house guests, the unusually powerful edibles Randall has brought along… and the strange bioluminescent clouds drifting in off the water.

It’s no great shocker to say the clouds spell biological contagion, and if you like Cabin Fever, Sea Fever, The Bay, and Honeymoon, you’ll have a sense of what happens next – a good slice of low-budget gnarly body-horror.

The Beach House isn’t without its issues – it perhaps feels like a low-budget thriller itching to be bigger, and schlockier. When we meet the residents of the town, such as they are, there’s not enough of them to deliver on exploitation thrills, and the film isn’t quite smart enough to completely deliver on more low-key cerebral pleasures – Emily is an astrobiologist, a job that seems thematically apposite but which doesn’t remotely have any impact on the plot. The film also lacks much distinction between its second and third acts – at the halfway point things go to hell, and then it’s a nightmare from then on.

Despite all of that though, there’s enough fun here to make it worth a watch. It’s a good example of a Bad Trip movie (in both senses), with smart use of visual and sound design to sell the intensity of a drug-induced trip. The fog clouds at some points resemble something from a woozy Jean Rollin film – The Grapes of Death, say. Randall is a convincingly self-centred boyfriend – shades of Midsommar in his minor-key egocentrism. And when things fall apart the film gets suitably apocalyptic in tone – a scene with a crackly distress call though a CB radio is a particular highlight, coming on like something from a John Carpenter movie.

The real draw though is likely to be the gunky body horror aspects – again, the film holds back for the most part, whether due to budget or design, but there’s at least one scene of stomach-flipping self-surgery that’ll make you wince.

If you want low-key foreboding building directly to doomy panic, a female lead, and the occasional bit of gooey parasite squirminess, I recommend The Beach House. You’ll never want to wade into the tidal foam again!

(Side note: I’m not sure where they got PCP-level legal edibles, but they sure picked the wrong day to scoff them.)

The Beach House is available now on horror-streaming VOD service Shudder.

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