The Beach House (2020)

One of the pitfalls of regularly watching genre movies is that they start to blend together if you don’t diversify your diet. The way genre films can repeat and reshape the same story templates into thousands of uniquely meaningful variations is a beautiful thing. However, if you watch, say, five varying riffs on The Thing or Groundhog Day in a month the barriers that distinguish each individual film start to break down. All of that is to say that the modestly budgeted Lovecraftian horror The Beach House was very poorly timed, to no particular fault of the film itself. In a year where The Beach House has to compete for attention with fellow new releases Color Out of Space, Sea Fever, and The Rental—all of which cover nearly identical genre territory with much larger budgets & creative resources—it has almost no chance of standing out as its own distinct vision. Still, the benefit of working within the realm of genre is that these familiar templates have their own guaranteed entertainment payoffs baked into their recipes. It took me a while to warm up to The Beach House as a worthwhile, distinct product, but it does eventually get pretty gnarly while staging its climactic mayhem, conjuring a few memorably horrid images that will continue to haunt me despite the rest of the film’s overbearing familiarity.

(Like in Sea Fever), The Beach House features an aspiring scientist, who (like in The Rental) finds herself in a tense social situation while intoxicated with her boyfriend and a strange couple at vacation home, until (like in Color Out of Space) an extraterrestrial infection mutates the people & landscape around her into a grotesque Lovecraftian hellscape. It’s not just the familiarity with these archetypes & settings that makes the film difficult to sink into. The melodramatic CW Network-flavored acting style and the influence of drugs & alcohol also confuse what’s intentionally off in the protagonist’s surroundings and what’s just mistakenly inauthentic & cheesy. It’s impossible to fully get your footing in the film’s early goings, where it’s unclear whether there’s already something sinister in the air or if the dialogue is just being unevenly performed by the subprofessionals the modest budget could afford. Things quickly pick up once the parameters of the beachside Lovecraft horror become explicitly clear, though, and the hideous chaos of the back half more or less erases the tedium of its build-up. I’m not sure the film has anything more to say than “Don’t take edibles with strangers in an unfamiliar location” or “Never trust a fuckboy named Randall” but its pseudoscientific descent into primordial horror is well staged once it gets past those first-act speed bumps.

There are a few isolated, truly grotesque images in The Beach House that should perk up any horror nerds who make it past the doldrums of the film’s early stirrings. Whether seeking out those scattered nightmare visions for their own sake is enough to justify watching an entire movie is dependent on your own appetite for this kind of material. That’s especially true in a year where it’s bested in nearly every way by Color Out of Space in particular, which goes so much further in both its supernatural mayhem and its off-putting performances that The Beach House almost feels wholly redundant, if not just poorly timed. It might have fared better in a different year, but I can’t pretend that it registers as anything particularly memorable in our current context.

-Brandon Ledet

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