Shudders new release ‘The Beach House’ is a slow-burning atmospheric film that really tries very hard not to pigeonhole itself into any one box in the horror genre. This works for is and against in equal measures and leaves the audience in quite the conundrum over what they have just seen.
Randall (Noah Le Gros) decides to take his girlfriend Emily (Liana Liberato) go to Randall’s father’s beach house to help fix their fragile relationship where they unexpectedly find a couple who have already arranged to stay for the weekend with Randall’s dad. The group try to co-exist despite rising tensions amidst strange happenstances occurring outside.
The Beach House lives and dies by its slow-burn plot structure and patience the audience has with our characters and their actions. A lot of horror films succeed with a good slow burn that allows the audience to get a sense of the characters their surroundings and the themes of the film. But, The Beach House seems to make this a challenge in how patient an audience can be with little ominous builds for over 50 minutes before events truly start unfolding. In an 87 minute film that really is too much time waiting on the sidelines for a horror film. Especially as by the time we reach the final act, the events do not feel fully earned as if there was a large portion of a second act that simply went by us as if we were infected by the microbes.
Despite this, you do still become invested, but this is less to do with the script and more by the performances. Liberato particularly seems a talent to keep an eye out for as she drives the final 40 minutes. She makes Emily a relatable character who we actively want to survive. Le Gros also provides a strong counterpoint to Liberato with his performance as Randall. From the outset, we can see this is a couple on the verge of breaking up, with neither wanting to admit it, and the duo play it straight this way, they are out of sync until they need each other to survive.
It has to be imagined that they purposely played up this side of the relationship as in other films the couple would still have this great chemistry “but it just isn’t working out”. Having a relationship that is on the rocks from the start and continues to do so was refreshing and importantly for the film, it feels real. As I believed in Liberato as Emily I believed in this couple and how apart they are. But, a film such as this needs more for the audience to keep going, especially in an age where a lot would give up quite easily at the 30-minute mark.
While the script is lacking, the atmosphere is terrific throughout. The relationship between both couples is strained and having them to then co-exist furthers this fragile eco-system. If you go in blind you get multiple suspicions of where the film is going to go and then the film proves you wrong. Now, this isn’t a case of Netflix’s truly horrible Open House that opened itself up for so many options and directions and then went with the absolute worst and most boring one. Thanks to this atmosphere and strong performances we keep following on, wondering what indeed is happening, and how can our young couple escape it. What helps amplify this overbearing sense of dread is the exceptional sound design. The sound of the waves is never far from our ears, reminding us of the water and of its importance not only to us but to these four unassuming people.
Another aspect that works very well is the visuals, from the direction, cinematography to the special FX. The film is obviously on a low budget, but for most of the run time, you would not think so. With the creature designs literally making your skin crawl and the very effective use of fog that other films (you know the one) should have utilised. First-time feature director Jeffrey A. Brown should be commended for what he has done here. This is not an easy film to make and his use of shots and colour are as bold as they come, captivating us in the night scene when our two couples stare out onto the beach. The use of wide static shots help drive the idea of isolation without bashing us over the head, it is subtle, we see Emily lying on an empty beach with no one to help her and you feel how separate she is from the others, but at the same time, you think that someone could still easily come up to her and provide a scare.
For those who have watched the trailer, do not go in thinking you are going to see THAT film, this is a slow burn of a picture that while has major flaws, is still a pretty decent indie horror that just needed a few more events in it to succeed to the next level. A shame as this film has a lot of untapped potentials, especially from the themes brought up and the cast. A missed opportunity.