Review: ‘The Beach House’ (don’t be afraid)

If a person on the beach dies and no one is around to hear it, does their scream make a sound?

College students Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) arrive at an off-season beach house for an impromptu getaway. Both appear to have different goals in mind for their time spent alone together, but they quickly discover an older couple are already occupying the residence. As the strange weekend unfolds, it is among the first of several oddities surrounding the beach house and its occupants, extending to even the empty neighboring properties and the waters off the coast itself. If something truly sinister is happening, how far does one have to flee to escape it… whatever that may be?

There’s a genre of horror that reduces humanity to insignificance, Lovecraftian in nature but not always about the Great Old Ones. It often involves body horror, terrors psychological in nature, and more than a few trust issues regarding fellow human beings. Such stories hinge on the inevitable: going mad, dying horrifically, or both — not necessarily in that order. Whatever the outcome, such events put into perspective how unimportant one’s daily concerns actually are when your skin no longer feels like it fits on your frame. Like any good disaster film, it ends when the threat has run its course, not necessarily because something was defeated. In the end, what’s the minimum explanation a viewer requires to decide whether an experience was worth their time?

The Beach House offers few answers for all the questions asked, existential or otherwise. What it does well, however, is slowly pulling viewers out of their comfort zone and pinning them there, first with relationship red flags before piling weirdness on top of weirdness. As the world slowly goes to hell around the main characters, the end result is not as complete or effective as the exquisite Color Out of Space, but there are similar themes regarding resistance and acceptance… and the consequences for both. The body horror herein is practical and organic, but while the strain on the budget is apparent as the filmmakers struggle to bring their ninety-minute tale to an interesting close, there’s still something inexplicably compelling about it.

Our POV character Emily at first appears passive next to extrovert Randall; why does the couple seem so mismatched? Couldn’t he do better? Couldn’t she do better…? It quickly becomes clear who the one settling is and who’s better equipped for what’s coming, a minor mystery quickly solved. With so few characters, it’s interesting how much is told and how little is told at the same time, especially as the surprises start popping up. The short running time contributes to the feeling of abbreviation, like the opening chapter of a new streaming series or part of a Creepshow anthology. While the runtime may hide a lot of flaws, it also undercuts what could have been a longer and more compelling film had a few extra bucks been scrounged up somewhere.

If you’re the type of viewer who needs to know why a thing exists at any cost, the ambiguous conclusion isn’t riveting. That said, if you don’t mind sharing in the dread of knowing you should run — even if you’re not sure why or exactly from what — The Beach House lingers in the psyche longer than one might expect.

The Beach House is unrated for body horror and not drinking the water.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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