Two college-age hotties, Randall and Emily (Noah Le Gros and Liana Liberato), have won the jackpot — a romantic getaway to his father’s beautiful, empty house, with direct access to a beautiful, empty beach.
Correction: The house is not quite empty after all. An older pair of guests, Mitch and Jane (Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel), are already there, though they don’t mind sharing the space with the newcomers.
The beach, too, is more crowded than expected, and that is not good news because we are in a horror movie, a genre in which vacations in isolated, picturesque settings tend not to end well.
Despite its relatively tight focus — four characters, one location — the writer-director Jeffrey A. Brown’s debut feature has an ambitious scope made all the more intriguing by its lack of clear answers. The characters may have stumbled into bad edibles, a fog teeming with mysterious life, a nasty parasite, the beginning of the end of the world, or all of the above. This is a lot to cram into such a tight frame but after a dillydallying slow start, Brown ratchets up the tension efficiently, summoning a mix of gross-out body invasion, eco-mutation and large-scale cosmic dread on a small budget.
But the film is also front-loaded with unforced errors as Brown clumsily, unnecessarily telegraphs symbols and character points. The younger pair isn’t keen on oysters, for instance, unaware that they are innocent goop compared to what will wash up on the beach, and it takes only a few minutes to see that Randall is an immature, selfish jerk — he just dropped out of school and is peevishly dismissive of Emily’s plans for grad school. She wants to study astrobiology, explaining to Mitch and Jane that it’s about the way organisms adapt to harsh environments. Insert flashing warning light.
Setting up stock characters — a blockheaded bro, a couple of middle-aged people, and an ambitious, smart young woman — severely undermines the film’s near-metaphysical aspirations. Still, a self-operation on a foot is hard to watch no matter how much you see it coming.
The Beach House
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. Watch on Shudder.