The Beach House (2019)

SEPTEMBER 18, 2020


Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a decent movie is that a similar one comes along around the same time and is just so much better. That's the case of The Beach House; had I seen it prior to January 24th of this year I probably would have been pretty enthused about (with reservations), but alas that's the day I saw Color out of Space, which covers a lot of similar end of the world territory but more effectively and in a manner much more to my liking. It's like Deep Impact - not a bad movie at all, but a few months later we got Armageddon - why settle for Tea Leoni when you have Bruce Willis? Hell, both films are even exclusive to Shudder (at least as of this writing), so you can't even access it without having a superior version at your disposal.

To be fair, Beach House isn't specifically based on any Lovecraft story, so perhaps the screenwriter had to hold back a bit to avoid being sued, as the story is very much in his wheelhouse. It unfolds very slowly, telling the tale of a young college couple, Emily and Randall, who arrive for a romantic weekend at the latter's family log cabi- wait, no, beach house during the off season, only to discover that Randall's dad has promised to let his friends Mitch and Jane use it at the same time (our young lad didn't bother to ask his dad if it was OK). In what might be the least believable part of the movie, the young horny couple decides to not only stay there, but like, hang out and get high together. Have you ever not only willingly hung out with your parents' friends, but offered them your edibles?

Anyway as they get high they start to notice that there are funny smells outside, and then they start seeing weird color shifts and the like (see what I mean about maybe having to hold back? It was at this point I actually checked if it wasn't actually a loose adaptation) before they all pass out. The next morning they can't find Jane (suffering from Alzheimer's or something similar) and we are told it's weird that no one's around, which might have been a more effective development had we seen anyone but these four people until this point anyway (there hasn't been as much as a gas station clerk or something along those lines). And then... well, spoilers follow!

The source of the threat is a sort of yellowish fog that turns people into zombie/mutant kind of things, and the makeup is usually quite impressive when seen (which isn't often, given the aforementioned lack of people). What we can gather from both visual evidence and an earlier stoned explanation of astrobiology from Emily (it's her major), this toxin is reverting people into a new lifeform, forcing them to adapt much quicker than evolution usually allows. A terrific idea, no doubt, but when there's no world being shown at all it's hard to get into the idea of how it is ending; the cast and scope were so minimal that I wondered if we were being prepped for a twist that revealed the characters were already dead when the film began. Even Romero, who had about 19 cents to spare on his NOTLD budget, managed to offer up some sense of how things were progressing beyond the limits of the heroes' POV, but there's almost nothing like that here. The world seemed dead before the things even showed up.

But the real thing holding me back was the characters: they simply weren't interesting enough, particularly the younger couple. Emily wants to go to grad school, Randall wants to quit college early and just spend their lives vacationing, so they're obviously at that "if we survive this we might break up" stage, but that's about as complicated as they get, and both actors are fine but lack that sort of magnetism that can make up for a script's shortcomings (and they're both too new to generate an instant empathy and concern the way a veteran actor might benefit from). Faring better is the older couple, which DOES get at least 50% of that built-in love since Jake Weber plays Mitch, and he's always welcome in my house thanks to Meet Joe Black and, for the die hard horror fans, brings some end of the world expertise along from the Dawn of the Dead remake. His New England accent is a bit iffy (I can cut him some slack since he is English), but even with his minimal screentime he manages to convey the difficult position he finds himself in, devastated at watching his wife slip away but having to hold it together so that her remaining time is fulfilling. We meet them later and they exit earlier, so they're only in the movie for about half the time as the younger couple, and I can't help but wish the movie was about their journey instead.

Also, there's not enough payoff to justify the slow buildup. It's almost like they skipped the middle act; it's about 50 minutes of setup and then a fairly action packed but also underwhelming final 30, as things go to hell instantly (and mostly off-screen), making the final reel or so just a long "we gotta get out of here!" kind of escape sequence with little reason to be compelled by it, since by then you kind of know how this is going to play out. The brief appearance of other threats are good for the occasional wtf kind of moment, but they also fail to feel like actual threats - it's almost like the two heroes are running through a Halloween haunt maze, with the zombies/mutants being able to only chase them so far before they return to their starting position to scare someone else. The final shot is effective, for sure, but it's a blip on a pretty low pulse instead of a spectacular coup de grace.

And why shoot in Massachusetts and almost never show anything?! I thought perhaps they shot it in California or something and were just trying to hide telltale signs of palm trees, and thus had to keep everything cramped, but no - they really shot at Cape Cod (specifically North Truro, which is almost at the very end of the "curled arm" outlet that you'll recognize from any map of Massachusetts), though you can only really tell from the credits. Presumably a budgetary limitation, but jeez, even the shots on Google Maps street view show more than you ever see in the film. License some stock footage or something if you can't afford any wide shots!

If you're an absolute nut for Lovecraft-y kinda stuff, I'm sure it'll scratch those itches, but if you're like me and fairly indifferent to his work and subsequent adaptations, I suspect you'll find just as little to really like here. It's watchable, for sure, and at 85 minutes with credits at least it's not asking too much time out of your day (indeed, my lone complaint about Color out of Space was that it was a bit too long), but it just doesn't offer up enough we haven't seen before (save for a gnarly impromptu foot surgery, part of the movie's very brief detour into body horror kind of material) in films that gave us more reasons to look past their flaws.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I made it to the dinner scene before I gave up because the camera was shaking so much.


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