Monday, March 8, 2021

Life's a Beach (& then you die)

Here's the thing: any beach-set horror movie is always going to have a high bar to clear...

A high The Sand bar, if you will.

A few years ago, I was going through a hard personal time. Much like most of us in 2020, my attention span was best suited for smartphone Boggle and car commercials starring dogs. I wanted dumb entertainment, and bless the gods of streaming services that I landed on The Sand.

The Sand is an incredibly dumb horror movie about killer sand. It stars beautiful dumb people who are killed by dumb killer sand. It was all I wanted and everything I needed at the time. I still salute The Sand.

Anyhoo, onto The Beach House, writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown's feature debut now airing on Shudder.

Quick Plot: Randall, a moody college dropout, is taking his aspiring scientist girlfriend Emily to his dad's beach house for some vacation fun. Their romantic weekend hits a snag when they learn that Mitch and Jane, old pals of Randall's parents, are already there. Luckily, the two couples get along so well that a friendly dinner ends with a dessert of very strong edibles.

Jane is dying, and Mitch has been trying hard to give her one last pleasant trip. Their evening is filled with dreamy hallucinogenic night air, but their morning turns sour when Mitch goes missing and Jane is covered in lesions.

Emily and Randall try to squeeze in some beach time, but Randall is seized by stomach pain. Mitch reappears only to go for an endless swim. When Emily tries to bring him back from assumed drowning, she's stung by a gooey alien-like jellyfish.

Clearly, something isn't right in this quiet oceanside town. Jane turns near zombie-violent as Randall's sickness grows worse, leaving Emily to try to find some way to escape the encroaching poisonous fog.

Let me start by stating the obvious: The Beach House is no The Sand. It's a "better" movie in terms of its filmmaking, certainly, but also, way less fun.

So. Much. Less. Fun.

Easily, this is where I found myself checking out of Brown's film. The subtle practical effects look great and the idea of an empty beach town is haunting, but The Beach House simply climaxes too early. I'm rarely a fan of existential white wealthy college dudes, so it was tough to invest anything into Randall's fate. While I love the idea of Emily's bio-chemist education helping to guide some of the environmental mutations we're seeing, there's just so much quiet meandering as she sluggishly tries to crawl to safety that it never quite has the payoff I was hoping to find.

All of this is not to say that The Beach House is not a good movie. The haunting emptiness of its beautiful location hits a certain nerve, particularly in a pandemic-frozen world. I can't say enough how well Brown's use of Emily's science passion works towards subtly helping the audience understand what we're seeing without the film having to spoon-feed it our way. There's very good filmmaking on display here. I just wish the storytelling itself was a tad more engaging in the film's second half. 

High Points
I hate being that film writer who gets distracted by the movie she wanted rather than the one she got, but damnit, I would have gladly taken 90 minutes of Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel being fascinated by millennials. The dinner scene is one of those reminders that when you have the right actors, it can be incredibly rewarding to watch characters listen to each other

Low Points
Lead actress Liana Liberato is very good and Emily is a refreshingly smart final girl, but once Mitch and Jane are out and we still have 45 minutes of movie left, it's hard to stay engaged

Lessons Learned
Never start a dinner party before assessing your wine supply

Grad school is such bullshit

If your partner thinks your education is bullshit, it's probably time to end the relationship (whether by breakup or poison jelly fog)

I've yet to declare a Shudder original (or acquired one) a bad film. The Beach House is well-made, and shows strong promise in writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown. I wasn't overly satisfied, primarily because of its odd choices in pacing, but it's certainly worth a watch. 


  1. I watched this one a while back and it didn't leave much of a lasting impression on me... maybe because I read some other reviewer blathering on about its importance.
    It's an interesting idea though.

    1. Yeah, the idea has a lot of potential and the filmmaking is quite good, but somehow, it doesn't quite come together to be overly satisfying.

  2. That's a shame! It's so nice to have a streaming service like Shudder, and I'm happy to subscribe and support them even if, at times, I'll go months without watching anything there. Hope they come your way!