This low-budget indie horror film really benefits from director Jeffrey A. Brown’s clever sense of restraint. By the time we realise the truly gruesome threat facing Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (The Get Down’s Noah Le Gros), we’re fully invested in this likeable young couple’s fight for survival.
First-time feature director Brown has previously worked as a location manager on Netflix series Master of None and The OA, and his flair becomes apparent when the couple arrives as the titular beach house belonging to Randall’s family. The airy rooms and picturesque setting in what looks like New England would make it a firm favourite on Airbnb, but as Randall points out, the town itself seems oddly deserted. But when he and Emily enter the house, the potential for a quiet romantic weekend together is punctured by the unexpected presence of an older couple, Mitch (Dawn of the Dead’s Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryanne Nagel), who turn out to be friends of Randall’s dad.
The awkward foursome agree to share the house for the weekend, and when the wine runs out at dinner, Randall suggests they move onto some edibles he’d intended for him and Emily. As they get high together, Brown cranks up a creeping sense of unease at the beach house. When some pretty glimmers of light appear in the trees beyond the balcony, Jane asks Mitch if she can take a closer look. He’s apprehensive and intimates to Emily that Jane needs looking after because she isn’t very well – one of several breadcrumbs Brown drops to highlight the fragility of human life. Soon after, a strange noxious smell begins to envelop the house.
The Beach House then becomes pretty hellish pretty quickly – and a wince-inducing scene in which Emily removes a slithering worm-like organism from her foot is just the beginning. An earlier conversation in which she describes her passion for astrobiology – particularly the study of primitive life at the bottom of the ocean – proves to be grimly prophetic as the environment around them turns toxic in ever more monstrous ways. None of the characters can really comprehend what’s going on, and neither can we, which makes the film’s swelling terror even more menacing.
Though his script perhaps leaves too many questions unanswered, Brown definitely deserves credit for creating a genuinely scary, nightmarish scenario with just four characters and roughly the same number of sets. The Beach House is a tense, trippy and economical horror flick that often gets you right in the gut.
- Director: Jeffrey A. Brown
- Starring: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber
- Release date: July 9 (Shudder)