By Scott Dorward
The Beach House (USA, 2019)
“I was thinking, maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to come to the beach.”
When I was preparing for this year’s challenge, I went back over some of the reviews I wrote in 2013 and 2014. It surprised me how many were for films I now barely remember. OK, I watch a lot of horror films, probably more than is good for me. It’s still odd to see evidence of something that has so thoroughly evaporated from my mind.
The harsh truth, I suppose, is that films generally have to be exceptional, either good or bad, to be memorable. Most horror films are not.
If I read back over these reviews in another six years, I should not be surprised if I’ve forgotten all about The Beach House. It’s not a bad film by any means, but I can’t imagine it finding a permanent home in my cluttered brain.
Emily and Randall are young lovers, having met at university. Emily is considering a post-graduate degree in biochemistry, while Randall has just dropped out, causing tension between them. They have travelled to a beach house in Massachusetts, owned by Randall’s parents, to discuss their future.
These plans are disrupted by two unexpected intrusions. First, they discover that the house is already occupied by friends of Randall’s family — a middle-aged couple named Mitch and Jane — who are also getting away from everything. After some initial confusion, the two couples agree to share the beach house for the weekend and start forging a friendship. Jane is clearly unwell, her medicine cabinet filled with bottles of pretty well every anti-psychotic medicine I’ve heard of.
Then, after a drunken meal culminating in Randall convincing Mitch and Jane to get stoned with them, the second intrusion arrives in the form of a strange fog. This is a plume of organic material released by some hitherto-unknown variety of deep-sea organism.
While this fog and the bioluminescent matter it spreads are initially beautiful, exposure to it starts leading to psychotic breaks, parasitical infestations, and physical mutations. Our protagonists find themselves fighting for survival as both they and the world around them start changing in strange and horrific ways.
While it never draws directly upon any of his creations, The Beach House is undoubtedly Lovecraftian. If you squint, you can view it as an adaptation of “The Colour Out of Space”; although, in this case, the contamination comes from beneath the sea. In fact, it may be truer in tone to his story than the recent Richard Stanley film. There are certainly fewer alpacas.
Aspects also reminded me of James Herbert’s novel, The Fog (no relation to the John Carpenter film). The image of a thick, yellowish fog blowing across the landscape, bringing madness and death, could come straight out of Herbert’s book.
The Beach House is an ambitious film, rising above the average, at least in its early stages. In particular, the glowing residue of the biological fog is eerily beautiful. The characters are well-developed enough to make us care about their fates. This is essential in portraying apocalyptic events on such a small scale.
The Beach House‘s cocktail of Lovecraftian, survival and body horror is a heady one. While hampered by a low budget, the effects are still largely effective. One scene, in which Emily finds herself infected with a parasite, is particularly discomforting. If the rest of the film had been able to keep up this momentum, The Beach House could have been something special.
The final act isn’t terrible by any means, but it is still weak. I wonder if it could have been improved by a higher budget, allowing the filmmakers to show us more of the transformed world they are forced only to hint at. Instead, we see the protagonists running around in the fog before holing themselves up in a gloomy living room to await their fates. While this still carries emotional weight, and might have been satisfying in another film, it feels like a letdown after the promise of what came before.
Despite this, The Beach House is still an entertaining, tense and sometimes moving film. It is definitely worth a watch. Just temper your expectations.
A Final Note
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 24 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 25 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 26 – The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 29 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!