/horror Quarantines with “The Beach House”

Week two! Look at this consistency. This week we’re watching “The Beach House” (2020). This is a Shudder original, which I think I’m sortof woefully under-aware of and should probably watch more of these. “The Beach House”, written and directed by Jeffrey A. Brown (this is his first feature-length film), is also a nice, tidy, digestible ninety minutes.

Now, this beachfront smacks directly of my hometown. It was filmed in Massachusetts so we’re slowly working our way down the coast. Mild spoilers ahead so proceed with caution.

A young couple (Randall and Emily) arrives at Randall’s family beach house in what I’m guessing is April because they reference Memorial Day coming up. Basically, the neighborhood is quiet and abandoned. People haven’t started using their summer homes yet. Randall and Emily seem to have a kind of new relationship energy but have actually just been apart for a minute, because Emily has been in school and Randall dropped out of school. She wants to study astrobiology. (Fun fact, my brother did actually go to grad school for this.)

That being said, Randall kinda sucks. Sure, maybe he’s going through an existential crisis, but I’ve loved someone through one of those before and it’s not always a mutually beneficial growth cycle, plus he seems keen on Emily also dropping out of school, despite her dreams of science. He’s also got a not-insignificant amount of privilege – can quit school without worrying about his future and bum around in his family’s beach house indefinitely.

Pretty quickly it’s evident that there’s trouble in paradise, but not yet of the horror movie variety. For example, there’s another couple is in the house – Mitch and Jane, friends of Randall’s father. Seems safe enough, even if they are a bit odd.

From an aesthetic perspective, there’s some really great micro shots of textures and kinetic environment to start and transition scenes. Very microbial. The phosphorescence is pretty. Most of the interior shots are graded very warmly, which makes the (extremely) cool blue of the ocean and the respective algae(?) much brighter. Likewise, there’s a concrete swap to wide aerial shots at some point, like a single person centered on the beach, which really makes the set pieces suddenly feel like part of the experiment. A human petri dish. Overall it’s maybe a little clumsy, a little on the nose for parts (Chekov’s keys and subsequently duct tape anyone?) The effects are so-so except the prop work, which is pretty good, but I can’t imagine the budget was significant.

“The Beach House” is very reminiscent of “Annihilation” in a lot of ways, even in the scoring, but not quite with the same…scale? It feels almost too insular, too specific. Emily is a budding scientist without any of the experience that brings a sort of aware-terror to the situation. We just kind of bumble along with her in the situation. There’s implication of a global pandemic but it doesn’t really pay off in any meaningful way.

This is, semi-regrettably, another ocean-adjacent movie. It’s a bit slower than I would have liked, but there are decent little tension moments smattered throughout. Also once it picks up, it really picks up. Then it slows down again. Truly, a rollercoaster. Also folks, don’t just fall asleep on the beach without any kind of sunscreen, okay?

I don’t hate this as a sort of ‘Shadow Over Innsmouth’ tale, I just wish (as I do with most movies) that the consistency was a little bit better. Characters are advised not to breathe the air and then do nothing to prevent breathing the air. They smash a window to take shelter which…lets in the air. A parable about pandemics it isn’t. An allegory about global warming? Sure. I’d buy that.

Next week, genetically modified sharks.

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