Published Jul 15, 2020Going into The Beach House, horror streaming service Shudder's most recent feature, the only thing I had heard was that I should definitely see it but also not to watch the trailer. I figured there was a good reason for this, and having read it so many times on Twitter, I obliged. After watching the film, my curiosity piqued and I looked it up to see why. So, let me be the first to tell you (if you haven't heard already), definitely do not watch the trailer — that is, unless you want a two-minute Coles Notes of some of the film's most visceral moments with absolutely none of the pacing or context that makes them special or exciting.
It's easy to see how it might have been challenging to cut The Beach House into a two-minute trailer. How can you communicate, in such a short period of time, the fantastical details that set Shudder's The Beach House (2020) aside from Beach House (2018) or even The Beach House (2018) — yeah, for some reason, two films called Beach House came out in 2018, but only one of them stars Chad Michael Murray. After all, all three of them feature brunettes and sand. Truthfully, it's difficult to imagine breaking up something that flows so successfully the way this film does. The Beach House sneaks up on you, like the sense of dread that permeates the film, leaving you sticky and uncomfortable like something that brushes up against you when the tide comes in.
The Beach House seems like a generic enough horror film on paper. Emily (Liana Liberto) and Randall (Noah Le Gros), a couple on the rocks, escape to Randall's family's underused summer home to talk through their issues. When they arrive, they find the idyllic and seemingly deserted landscape to be more active and more insidious than they had imagined. Lovecraft and early Cronenberg (think Shivers) come to mind as their romantic conversations are interrupted by a slew of guests who wish to make the couple their unwilling hosts. From the slow beginning through the steady build of terror that is the climax, what sets the film apart is its mood, its truly breathtaking cinematography, and a few of the main performances — namely that of one of our uninvited guests, Mitch Turner (Jake Weber).
Where the film falls a bit short is in its treatment of the relationship between the two protagonists. For the driving force that brings the cast of The Beach House together and the dynamic we are intended to fear the demise of, neither Emily nor Randall — but especially not the romantic relationship between them — is given enough attention. I could just be a little wary of hinging an audience attachment to someone's "final girl" status on a romantic relationship that doesn't really add anything to their character after a certain huge horror disappointment last summer (looking at you, Ari Aster), but in this case at least, Emily's character suffers for her poorly written romantic partner. A considerable amount of time is put into making Emily seem radically different than her "final girl" predecessors, but when her special knowledge fails to connect with the plot in a meaningful way, it feels like a bit of a waste of the film's premise.
As well, fans of sci-fi and horror might be disappointed in the short time and attention paid to the gruesome elements of the film after all of the skillful buildup towards them. This aside, the moments of mastery in The Beach House stay with you — some refreshing chills in all of this thick heat. (Shudder)