It is hard to review a film when you don’t exactly know what happened— where an individual, valid interpretation might make or break a film for a respective viewer. When the plot and meaning isn’t exactly laid bare for the audience, personal interpretation is key, which makes reviewing a film drenched in subjectivity so difficult to write. The Beach House is one such film.
Jeffrey A. Brown’s almost Lovecraftian seaside horror is sure to be divisive. A blind watch is surely the most preferable way to view the film and its sure to take many by surprise just how strange this film gets in its final act. The issue is the disconnect between the film’s initial set-up and its apocalyptic finale.
The Beach House begins with young couple Emily (Liana Liberato) and boyfriend Randall (Noah Le Gros), who are vacationing at his father’s beach house. There is tension between the couple as Emily desires to go back to grad school but Randall disagrees, and proposes that the pair stay and live in the beach house permanently—needless to say that the films finale would dash any such dream.
After christening the bedroom immediately upon arrival, Emily is later shocked to find a woman downstairs, eating at the kitchen table. She tells Randall who comes downstairs and disrupts the woman, discovering her to be Jane (Maryann Nagel), an old friend of Randall’s fathers that he hasn’t seen since he was a boy. Her husband Mitch (Jake Weber) arrives not long thereafter and explains that there must have been a mix-up with Randall’s father about who was staying in the house. Both couples are very accommodating however and agree to share the home and have dinner together.
Despite barely knowing each other Randall suggests that they all take edibles and hang out. Emily quickly turns chatty with Jane explaining her studies to her and her passion for micro-organisms. She is fascinated by their ability to adapt to extreme environments and spends a considerable amount of time on extreme foreshadowing rants about microbes, cells, and life before humans. Its interesting stuff, and Emily is a cool character because of it, but it becomes particularly lengthy to listen to and by the time the film’s events have wrapped up, its difficult to remember exactly what Emily was talking about, and it’s essential to the film’s story.
While Emily chats everyone’s head off, Jane wanders off into a crazy Pandora-esque world all her own. The ability for commercial chocolate edibles to create such a hallucinogenic experience is another issue entirely but the visuals in this cosmic vision are alluring, and Brown’s largely handheld camera creates a wild sense of disorientation that serves the subject well.
The film then turns very wild, very fast. Black and white, night and day level of difference. What starts out as a rather talky relationship driven story moves into the realm of cosmic nightmare. The complete lack of a middle act is the film’s main stumbling point, you literally move from a sunshine filled beach day into an orange fogged haze of disorientation and panic within seconds. This nightmare fuelled world is fun and I don’t wish to spoil it for potential viewers when the film hits Shudder so I won’t disclose specifics but its an anamorphic, parasitic world of traumatic body horror to say the least.
One particularly disgusting foot trauma scene forced me to put down my newly opened carton of Ben & Jerry’s and has all the gag-reflex ability of the hand scene from Gerald’s Game or the more closely linked foot trauma scene in Revenge. Absolutely wonderfully horrid stuff. So horrid that without this scene I think the film would be considerably worse off.
The Beach House tries to tackle big ideas regarding evolution, human beings and potentially even climate change, but whether Brown was confident enough to lay those themes out clearly is another story. Those ideas are just what I personally derived from this film; others may seek out different answers. Some viewers will appreciate the ambiguity of horror that lets you draw your own conclusions, and others will define this film as nothing but a batshit crazy mess. But it definitely has something going for it. It bulldozes through the middle to get to some truly psychedelic, bad trip material and those visuals and effects are strong. The Beach House certainly stands on its own as another addition into the recently blossoming category of ‘weird horror’ currently stamped by Mandy and Color out of Space, however it’s uncertain whether this one will float audiences’ boats.
The Beach House will be available to stream on Shudder from July 9th
by Chloe Leeson
Chloë (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She is a costume designer and trainee teacher living in the North East of England. She thrives watching 90s Harmony Korine Letterman interviews and bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. Find her on Twitter @sqchloe and on Letterboxd here.