Director Jeffrey A. Brown steps into a director role for the first time ever with The Beach House, an atmospheric slow burn number with cosmic horror leanings and a capable enough cast that ultimately fizzles out under its own meager budget and aspirations.
We join Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros), a pair of college students trying to work on their flailing relationship by vacationing at a glorious beach house belonging to Randall's father. Only problem is, some friends of his dad's (at least they say they're the dad's friends) have shown up, too, and that just doesn't sit right with anyone—until a night of wine and weed greases the wheels of reciprocity. But then, as with most horror movies, something weird starts happening, thrusting the foursome into a terrible new reality that threatens the very fabric of existence…probably.
See, Brown's subscribing to that Lovecraftian thing wherein unknowable, unseeable horror is worse than leaping monsters and knife-fingered dream killers. To a certain degree, he's right—movies are always scarier before we find out what the "thing" is. On the other hand, it's a double-edged storytelling mechanism, and endings that require an audience to suss out meaning for themselves can be divisive.
Wherever you land, just know The Beach House starts meandering almost immediately. In its opening act, shades of Aranofsky's 2017 bizarre-o-fest Mother! creep in by way of unexpected houseguests and steadily mounting and unavoidable weirdness. It's just, Brown is not Aronofsky. Not yet, anyway. From an audience perspective, losing control can be fun, especially if it's a gradual loss we don't notice until it's too late. Here, though, we're mainly in the dark and stumbling to find anything to hold onto, as are the people in the movie. Ohmygod. He made us feel like them! Just kidding—that one's obvious.
Liberato acts circles around Le Gros and becomes a de facto heroine for the piece; Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel as the older couple find notable ground as well, even if their chemistry, especially with the youngsters, is nonexistent. Otherwise, if this were the days of double feature DVDs, one might find The Beach House on the B-side of the similarly cosmic Color Out of Space release. But this is now, and it's on streaming service Shudder, so at least you didn't make a special outing to see it.
+Horror fans will probably like; Lovecraft fans, too
-Not for first-timers; not the best performances
The Beach House
Shudder, NR, 88 min.