Having grown up in the 90s, the concept of “invasion” films conjure up huge blockbusters like INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE STRANGERS and, more recently, THE WALKING DEAD. But there’s another way of doing these films that, to me, has as much to tell, if not more, about the nature of being a human being on Earth. I remember watching 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE and thinking: “yes, now, THAT is a great way to follow up the concept and explore humanity as a character”. THE BEACH HOUSE follows a similar approach: a macro-level event discussed on a micro-level film about relationships, stoner boyfriends and gross foot worms. It’s great.
It’s a bit tricky to discuss, though, because so much of the film’s attributes revolve around character development rather than plot. So, let’s start with the easy stuff: technicalities.
Visually, THE BEACH HOUSE walks a fine line between off-the-shelf indie look and strikingly beautiful. Beach pastels and super-wide shots quickly turn to dramatically-lit, claustrophobic indoor shots full of blood. This visual dychotomy, of course, is a storytelling tool, chronicling the passage of time and the increasing direness of the situation. But it’s also a great show of skill from cinematographer Owen Levelle: not many people have the talent to pull off such a diverse visual palette, let alone within a single film.
The soundtrack is equally fantastic, with many nods to genre greats including the Master of Horror himself, John Carpenter. Less of a character than the photography, perhaps, but equally as effective in its job as a tool of immersion.
The acting is, without an exception in sight, superb. Liana Liberato’s Emily in particular, is a complex character, nuanced in a way that would make even the most seasoned actor tremble at a table reading. And yet, Liberato’s performance is on point, a delightful mix of mature thoughts of a career and science, and the not-so-youthful regret of realizing you’ve been in the wrong relationship for a long, long time.
In terms of plot, again, it’s hard to talk about it without spoiling it too much. But I’ll give it a shot nonetheless.
THE BEACH HOUSE follows Emily and Randall, a couple of twenty-somethings on a weekend getaway to the titular location. Their relationship on rocky ground, they hope to rekindle the fire before it goes totally, fully out. Before long, though, they realize they are not alone in this idyllic place. Mitch and Jane, an elderly couple (friends of Randall’s dad, who owns the house on the beach), are staying there. They seem nice enough, but they also seem to be hiding something. And then, Mitch and Jane are not the only ones hiding something anymore.
I really don’t want to go much further than that, but suffice it to say, I really enjoyed the turns the film took to get me from A to Z. And perhaps, that’s a good segue to talk about the one thing I did not love about the film: the ending.
A few years ago, a good friend of mine and I were discussing INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. While both of us love the film, I couldn’t help but be bothered by my (very, very late) realization that Indie plays absolutely no role in the outcome of the film. What happened at the end had nothing to do with Professor Jones and it would have happened all the same had he not been there at all. “He’s a vehicle for storytelling!”, my friend shouted. And yes, it may be so. But an inconsequential one.
I’ll leave you to ponder whether those things might bother you, too. Perhaps you’re a bit less of a bore than me. I really hope you are.
As a whole, however, THE BEACH HOUSE is a great horror film. It succeeds where others have failed, because it uses (as do most genre greats), the setting and the horror to tell a human story. I like jump scares as much as the next guy, but give me a horror film that tackles environmentalism, relationships, chronic illness and the juxtaposition of youth and old age, and you’ll me a very, very happy camper, indeed.