Thursday, July 9, 2020

[Review] ‘The Beach House’ is a Cosmic, Trippy Triumph That Will Bury You In Its Tide

Jeffrey A. Brown’s directorial debut is a powerful, emotional throwback to ‘50s sci-fi that presents a stunning glimpse of a parasitic invasion.

“Life is so fragile.”

The Beach House is an apocalyptic fever dream brought to life. It’s an ode to the lofty science fiction films of the ’50s and gives the era the proper respect that it deserves within the horror genre. The Beach House pulls its inspirations from the ’50s, but it very much operates with modern sensibilities. Director Jeffrey A. Brown crafts something special here. He knows where to update its source material and get more aggressive with these older archetypes. Just like the best science fiction/horror hybrids, The Beach House finds a human story and tells it through a supernatural parable. The result is a film that feels familiar, but repeatedly takes surprising turns. You’ll never see another film like The Beach House this year.

The Beach House will inevitably be referred to as a low budget version of The Mist meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This is far from a bad thing, but it’s also trying to tell a deep story behind all of the monsters, special effects, and abstract visuals. The Beach House excels in this area and delivers plenty of great practical effects and frighteningly unique monsters that oddly feel real in their own right. The Beach House does a lot with its creepy premise and director Jeffrey A. Brown has a clear voice here. He does a great job at bringing his moody, cosmic vision to life. The Beach House immediately creates an eerie atmosphere. Right from the opening frame and credits there’s already darkness creeping in. It’s very atmospheric and it turns simple things like the ocean into sacred hellscapes. It feels like the birth of evil and it’s a very strong way to start the film.

When The Beach House begins, it looks like it will deal with horror that stems from the unexpected surprise that Randall (Noah Le Gros) and Emily (Liana Liberato) face when they reach the beach house. There’s already an elderly couple who are staying at the house. This alone could be the premise for a great horror film, but instead an unusual alliance forms here as these two couples discover that the entire world is on fire. The following day brings world-ending terrors as the environment itself appears to rebel against the living. A threat of an unfathomable size is suddenly upon these unprepared people in the cramped beach house. The film takes this strong setup and only goes to more challenging and impressive places with it all.

All of the supernatural elements in this movie are a lot of fun, but The Beach House is just as rewarding when it comes to its cast. Both Liana Liberato and Noah Le Gros are exceptional in their roles as Emily and Randall. They both exhibit a ton of range through this unusual experience and Liberato in particular looks like an upcoming talent to keep an eye on. She’s so good here and the film slowly turns into more of a solo effort for her character. This virus infects everyone, but it’s really Emily’s story.

The Beach House is careful to illustrate how Emily and Randall aren’t totally dysfunctional when the film begins. They at least want to get better. Things are far from perfect, but they still have a deep connection. However, subtle touches like the camera lingering on a shot hint at problems beneath the surface. There’s a passion there, but a fundamental lack of understanding between them.

The Beach House takes its time and it properly allows the audience to get to know Emily and Randall on their own before it adds other elements and people into the mix. It’s a smart approach for this variety of internal, isolated story. The whole thing is a gradual descent into hell. Another smart decision that the film makes is to not turn Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryanne Nagel) into antagonists or negative forces. They’re polite and cordial, which makes the mess that they all get tied up in work even better. Furthermore, there’s a very affable chemistry between these two couples. It’s a lot of fun to just watch them all hang out. You almost hope that nothing will go wrong and this will just be a low-key weekend at a beach house.

The film exhibits confidence in how it doesn’t hide the virus that begins to infect the coast. The scenes that explore this are some of the film’s most mind-bending moments. They’re beautiful to take in and they’re like being inside a living lava lamp. The film is full of equally evocative and abstract visuals. Even just the trippy visuals that stem from the drug use in the film really add a lot to the bad experience. The Beach House becomes genuinely scary when this infection intensifies and this “unstable, boiling chaos” eventually lets loose. Every development and new creature that shows up only pushes things further out of control.

The film delves into some gruesome body horror that is all sorts of upsetting and difficult to watch. This is all made worse by the fact that Emily is actually smart enough to understand what’s happening during the infection process (although The Beach House is very careful to not over-explain itself or get lost in exposition). There’s a moment that involves a parasitic worm and a pair of forceps that is just bonkers. The evolution of the virus is also super disturbing and keeps this threat feeling unique and unpredictable. To add to this, there’s a very powerful score that blasts the audience with abrasive sound. It’s a jarring experience and it helps The Beach House properly feel like the assault that it should be. Everything properly comes together here to create the overwhelming feeling that the world is falling apart.

Behind all of the pain and the cosmic assaults that The Beach House throws at its audience, there’s also a dark sense of humor that courses through the movie. It provides a nice grounded balance to all of the apocalyptic dread. A much more serious film wouldn’t have been an improvement.

To be fair, The Beach House does suffer from particular conveniences and plot contrivances. However, it’s a lot easier to look past these faults due to the effectiveness of the rest of the film. There’s still plenty of originality on display here. It’s also a little surprising to see just how much the film embraces the dour “doom and gloom” angle for its story. It doesn’t hold back.

The Beach House is an atmospheric triumph from newcomer director Jeffrey A. Brown. He crafts a slick tale of invasion and destruction that’s both intimate and cosmically grand. The Beach House is both a loving throwback to monster pictures from yesteryear, but at the same time, it helps the genre evolve to new places. It’s the perfect cocktail where the strange unknown mixes with raw emotions.

Now go out and try to enjoy some nature.

The Beach House is now streaming on Shudder.

Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on October 18, 2019.


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