‘The Beach House’ is a Brilliant Slow-Burn Horror

When the world is ending, what better way to spend it than on the beach? Think the ending of Deep Impact, where Tea Leoni’s character hugs her dad as a 100ft tsunami crashes into them. The Beach House — opening and closing on placid, comforting, blue waves — places the all-consuming calm of crystal-clear water against a creepy horror story-line to brilliant effect. 

With shades of On The Beach and Kiss Me Deadly, The Beach House is a grisly, topsy-turvy kind of film, starting comfortably in the psychological thriller genre before elegantly moving into the body horror zone. It’s the kind of well-accomplished b-movie that one should go into knowing as few plot points as possible; making it perfect for the shock-hungry midnight movie crowd. If you are sold on just these two paragraphs, feel free to skip the rest of the review and load up the film right away.

The Beach House

A false sense of calm permeates Jeffrey A. Brown’s measured opening scenes: slowly showing us the waves, the beach, the road, and comfy-looking houses, gives off a sense of pure serenity. It’s into this peaceful backdrop, a young couple — the traditionally pretty and preppy Randall (Noah Le Gros) and Emily (Liana Liberato)—second to his father’s home. Horny buggers, they christen the bed within five minutes; making randy Randall question whether they should just live in this perfect place permanently. 

But paradise gained is quickly paradise lost, as the young couple finds out that their father also lent a key to a pair of his older friends, the friendly yet obtrusive Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryanne Nagel). Trying to spice things up when the wine finally runs out, Randall introduces some weed edibles — to predictably devastating results. 

The Beach House

But this isn’t your standard, don’t-do-drugs PSA masquerading as a horror film — Brown is more interested in exploring a state of complete mental dislocation through slow camera movements, heavy atmosphere, and minimal musical accompaniment. Here we have an excellent match of concept and location: after all, beach houses in the film are either traditionally the home for lightweight romantic comedies or deep existential dramas… this film is definitely the latter, displaying the beach house as the last bastion of civilization before nature — which once climbed out of those very same waves — decides to reassert its original place. 

Cinematographer Owen Levelle makes fantastic use of light, bathing characters in extreme reds and blues — complemented by Carptenteresque fog — as if to suggest complete mental and physical subjugation. Special effects, used sparingly, err on the practical side, providing some genuinely repulsive creations. All four actors are equally game; whether it’s portraying an unforced realism early on, or reacting to the strange happenings around them, these transitions feel more-or-less believable, giving the film a strong centre to work off. 

Slow burn horrors are difficult to pull off. Sometimes they can just become boring. But by actually focusing on the real existential terror of such an event, this method helps The Beach House to really sing. For one thing, you might want to rethink that weekend getaway. 

The Beach House is available on on AMC’s Shudder, July 9.

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