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click to enlarge tbh_4.1.10-1024x554.jpg

photo courtesy Shudder

Slow-burn body-horror flick 'The Beach House' stretches believability 

Icky, sticky.

The coronavirus has a silver lining in regards to the silver screen. Though the pandemic has shuttered cinemas and delayed studio releases, it has shone a light on new filmmakers and small movies that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Case in point: First-time writer-director Jeffrey Brown and his slow-burn horror, The Beach House. Though the oddly existential flick might charm devotees of “genre filmmaking,” it’s too bad Brown didn’t make more of his moment in the spotlight. Specifically, it’s a shame Brown’s strangely infectious – pun intended – first and second acts give way to a third that is both narratively bare and ridiculous, even for a story that is perhaps meant to be taken metaphorically.

Not to be confused with an identically titled TV movie from 2018, this Beach House had a tiny festival run last year and will start streaming this week on Shudder, AMC’s horror platform. It’s the tale of college sweethearts Emily and Randall, who are looking to rekindle romance with a stay at the luxurious beach home of Randall’s dad. But after they arrive, they discover that Randall’s father has loaned the house temporarily to another couple.

The husband and wife (Mitch and Jane) are apparently old family friends and remember Randall from when he was a child. But Randall has little recollection of them, and both he and Emily are struck by the older couple’s odd behavior. Nevertheless, the four housemates settle in for – well, you’ll see.

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY SHUDDER
  • photo courtesy Shudder
The script takes pains to describe Emily’s interest in astrobiology. She’s particularly fascinated – as is Brown, apparently – with life at the microbial and primordial levels. Her devotion to the topic allows Brown to explore subjects that are derivative of apocalyptic films but are still somewhat original. Brown’s pace and style verge on David Lynch and David Cronenberg, but there’s also a lot of M. Night Shyamalan, and not the good Shyamalan. Think The Happening.

The Beach House remains intriguing for its first hour because it starts in a place of comfort and familiarity and then methodically morphs into a surreal nightmare. It’s buoyed by strong performances from Liana Liberato (Light as a Feather TV series) as Emily and Jake Weber (Meet Joe Black, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake) as Mitch, but Noah Le Gros (A Score to Settle) and newcomer MaryAnn Nagel are merely acceptable as Randall and Jane, respectively.

House isn’t badly crafted, but its limited scope makes it feel even smaller than the story demands. It’s a tale that doesn’t require production extravagance and could have even benefitted from its tiny scale by establishing claustrophobia. But it never gets there. Instead, the most it can produce is unease, thanks to some misdirection, not to mention plot points that peter out entirely. In other words, get ready for a large helping of red herring to go along with all the other slimy sea creatures the film references.

The characters in The Beach House constantly remind us and each other, “Don’t be scared.” They needn’t. For while the film does a decent job at creating vague dread, it never approaches anything resembling genuine fear.

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