Early into The Beach House, the film’s protagonist, Emily (Liana Liberato), comments that her idea of the beach is a blanket and good book. Yet, she also riffs about how life began on our planet and how much we don’t know about the deep ocean. The film, written and directed by Jeffrey A. Brown, asks us to ponder what could happen if an environmental contagion spread and infected us. Like an H.P. Lovecraft story, most notably “Color Out of Space,” The Beach House is a grim reminder of just how small we are in the context of the universe and how one little change or microbe could alter everything.
From the start, Brown plays with the notion of the beach as a relaxing get-a-way. The opening underwater shot features brown water pushing towards the surface. This is contrasted with the following shot of a wide blue sky and a peaceful sea, with small waves lapping at the shore. Yet, something seems slightly off due to the subsequent shots of empty roads and a deserted vacation town. It begs the question, where is everyone if the weather is so sunny and the beach seemingly so inviting?
We’re then introduced to Emily and her troubled boyfriend, Randall (Noah Le Gros), who dropped out of school and would rather take edibles and spin vinyl than ponder a career or the future. As the narrative unfolds, we realize that the two are going in different directions. Emily wants to be a scientist, while Randall has no aim and no direction. At one point, he rants about how college merely produces cookie-cutter graduates that buy into the idea of marriage, family, taxes, and bills. It’s unclear what Emily ever saw in him.
In fact, as much as The Beach House may serve as a metaphor for climate change, it’s also a story about couples that no longer mesh because one or both people have changed. Emily and Randall are the film’s anchor, but the other characters are Jane (Maryann Nagel) and Mitch (Jake Weber), an older couple who know Randall’s dad. Like Emily and Randall, they plan to stay at the beach house to mend their relationship.
While there’s enough meat on the bones of Emily and Randall’s characters to make them interesting, the same is not quite true of Mitch and Jane. We know that Jane’s sick, since Emily discovers a cabinet full of pill bottles, but it’s never stated what ails her. At one point, Mitch confides to Emily that he wanted to bring Jane to the beach to comfort her. He clings to what was, noting how they always used to find peace at the beach house because of its familiarity, right down to the furniture. He’s not too good at dealing with change, and it’s clear that taking care of his wife wears on him. Yet, we never quite see this fully, and there’s a missed opportunity to juxtapose the tension an older couple faces as they age with the struggles a young couple confronts as they navigate their future.
Of the four, Emily is the character we root for the most, not only to achieve her dream of becoming an astrobiologist and to explore the deep sea, but also to survive, especially when her foot is injured and she has to climb a massive set of stairs back to the house. Furthermore, Liberato makes a compelling leading lady, incredibly relatable and likable, but also resourceful and determined. Hopefully, this role lands her more work, as it should.
The Beach House has enough body horror and creepy crawly organisms that slither in water and infect the host to make it a wildly entertaining and frightful watch. The dread builds slowly until it gets to the point that you wonder how Emily and Randall are ever going to escape the contagion. The sense of inevitability may be too bleak for some, but The Beach House reminds us that change, be it within a relationship or from a biological standpoint, is inevitable.
It’s likely that the end scene will polarize some viewers. In some regards, it’s incredibly frustrating and unexplained. Yet, it again reinforces the concept that you can’t stop change, nor can you run away from it.
Overall, The Beach House has several tense moments and impressive special effects that bring some serious gross-out factors. The film is not without its flaws, namely its closing and two flat characters in Jane and Mitch, but the scares are compelling and create a sense of doom that hearkens back to Lovecraft. The film will make you ponder and fear what lurks out there in the deep sea.
The Beach House is currently streaming on Shudder.
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