Writer-director Jeffrey Brown’s first feature, THE BEACH HOUSE (Shudder) serves up an environmental apocalypse with plenty of body horror. It’s a ton of queasy fun and is rare among apocalyptic films in that I had no virtually head-smacking moments at the characters’ choices.
Young couple Emily and Randall arrive at his family’s beach community in the off season, promising a chance for them to rekindle their relationship after he ditched her and college out of disillusionment. He wants her to drop out too, but she’s dedicated as a student of astrobiology–the study of species that survive in incredibly hostile environments, which yes, foreshadows a whole lot of s**t that’s about to go down.
They discover an older couple–Jane and Mitch–is already at the house, friends of Randall’s parents, and they all decide there’s room enough for everybody. They have dinner together, involving wine and some edibles, and we learn how Emily is dedicated to school while Randall is not, how Jane is fighting a terminal illness while Mitch is struggling to handle the knowledge his wife is dying. Intruding on this basic drama is a strange luminescence in the trees and malodorous fog.
The next day, the horror begins.
I’ve always been intrigued by ecological apocalypse stories such as Tim Lebbon’s THE SILENCE, where an organism adapted to survive in a harsh environment is suddenly released into an environment offering an immense wealth of food and energy, which allows it to run amok. The monster in this story doesn’t care about humans and their problems, it simply sees them as food, as a vehicle to reproduce and evolve. THE BEACH HOUSE doesn’t disappoint in that department, providing a creepy spread of biological threats that Emily and Randall must try to survive.
Another thing that works about this film is it suffers little of the awkwardness and laziness of being a director’s first feature (especially one he wrote) and a low-budget horror film. The acting is decent, the horror effects are great, the direction and pacing work, there’s little pandering plot wise, and everything rolls out more or less realistically, while we start to get the idea that maybe even if the characters make all the right choices, it might not be enough. In particular, Emily is a great character, taking care of Randall, who is more physically affected by the crisis, while consistently making smart choices. She’s not set up as a superhero but instead a smart woman who toughs it out and keeps her head enough to make good decisions. My only real qualm was with the ending; Brown makes a point with it, but in my view it’s not particularly strong or memorable.
Overall, THE BEACH HOUSE is surprisingly good, solid apocalyptic fare.