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The Beach House | Review

And the Sea Will Kill: Brown’s Blends Menace with Familiar Tropes in Eco-Horror Debut

Jeffrey A. Brown The Beach House Movie ReviewHorror films have often benefitted from man vs. nature themes, and we’re decades removed from the genre’s drifting from socio-political metaphor to environmental alarms, where our taken-for-granted control erodes when nature claps back. The ocean, and all its mysterious, unexplored wonders, remains a formidable tool for both known and unknown perils, which Jeffrey A. Brown utilizes in his straightforward but enjoyable debut, The Beach House. Albeit an indie quartet which doesn’t allow for much by way of surprise, it’s an eco-horror film which perfectly blends its creature feature fascinations with formidable dread, resembling something akin to golden era Stephen King, Bradbury or even Lovecraft with its aquatic lurkers at the threshold.

College couple Randall (Noah Le Gros) and Emily (Liana Liberato) decide to abscond to his father’s beach house for a chance to reconnect romantically. As Emily has decided to pursue a master’s degree after completing her undergraduate program, Randall has decided to drop out of college, much to both Emily’s and his father’s chagrin. Before they can really converse, they discover another couple is also staying the beach house the same weekend, Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane Turner (Maryann Nagel), old friends of his father’s. Mitch and Jane are adamant the younger couple remain as they cook a seafood dinner, and it appears Jane’s ailing health has brough them to the seaside for a last hurrah. Running out of wine, Randall shares his edibles with the other couple and as the night drags on, they discover a blue phosphorescent substance blanketing everything outside, accompanied by a strong, fishy smell. As Jane disappears into the night, the younger couple passes out, only to wake up to a world vastly transformed from the one they knew.

Although Emily’s studying of astrobiology feels all too convenient for the purposes of The Beach House (kind of like Jodie Foster’s profession as relates to what happens in Flightplan, 2005), Brown does blend this quite niftily into some drug induced dialogue allowing for some philosophical reminisces about the origins of life on Earth.

Of course, we aren’t quite clear about the threatening menace in the film, whether or not it’s extra-terrestrial, for instance. As goop filled seed pods, which look like giant pot stickers, suddenly dot the shore, we can only ascertain it’s an invasion of some sort, and whether of terra or not, has begun to infiltrate in organic form. We don’t see too much of the creatures, or what their exact evolution looks like, but the snippets we do see tend to be unsettling and effective, from a green mutant (who looks a lot like King’s Jordy Verrill right before his lonesome death) to an oogy flatworm parasite Emily has to pull out of her foot, one recalls a number of similar properties, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) to The Ruins (2008) or perhaps most closely, the Barry Levinson found-footage film The Bay (2012).

Liberato, who was featured recently in Banana Split (2018) and To the Stars (2019), and made an impression back in David Schwimmer’s online sex trafficking drama Trust (2010) manages to be a capable lead who’s as level headed and resilient as she is likeable, even if some more exposition could have helped to explain her commitment to Noah Le Gros (son of James), an aimless underachiever who has little to offer by way of conversation. Maryann Nagel makes her debut as Jane, who could have pressed even further into either Lin Shaye or David Lynch territory, while character actor Jake Weber manages to be menacing despite having little to do.

If anything, besides being an enjoyable if somewhat familiar romp of humans decimated by the environment, the underlying universality as outlined by Liberato’s Emily regarding humans seems more pertinent than ever – “We’re fragile.”

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★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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