Combustible Celluloid
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With: Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, Maryann Nagel
Written by: Jeffrey A. Brown
Directed by: Jeffrey A. Brown
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 88
Date: 07/10/2020

The Beach House (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Plague in the Sunshine

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Wisely avoiding wordy explanations or long setups, this eerie, timely chiller takes a slow-burn approach, simply observing its characters, and springing its shocks naturally, without announcing them.

In The Beach House, Emily (Liana Liberato) and her boyfriend Randall (Noah Le Gros) decide to have a weekend getaway at Randall's estranged father's beach house during the off season. Expecting total privacy, they settle in. Emily heads downstairs and is dismayed to discover a woman sitting at the table. This is Jane (Maryann Nagel), and when her husband, Mitch (Jake Weber), arrives, Emily and Randall learn that Randall's father agreed to loan them the house for the same weekend.

Mitch remembers Randall and invites the young couple to stay for dinner. They drink and eat some pot-laced chocolate, and are entranced when everything outside appears to be glowing blue. The next morning, Jane seems ill and Mitch is acting weird, and Emily and Randall discover that the blue glowing stuff may have brought something deadly with it.

A debut feature by writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown, The Beach House has confidence in its ability to create weird little tensions out of ordinary moments. It takes a while before anything supernatural happens, but the mere character interactions are enough to make us feel on edge right away. What's left unspoken is frequently more powerful than what is spoken, such as the relationship tensions between Emily and Randall, and whatever demons Jane appears to be fighting inside.

When the trouble does actually begin, Brown doles it out in a way that makes it feel like it's happening organically. He doesn't play the audience like a piano, or ramp up scares with percussive crashes. A character saying "I think I'll go for a swim," turns into a jaw-dropping jolt. A garbled voice on a staticky police radio is mostly inaudible, except for one chill-inducing sentence; "it's not fog."

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that The Beach House is technically a zombie movie, but the zombies are rarely shown. This movie understands that zombies in themselves are no longer scary. What's behind them, what causes them, however, can be absolutely terrifying.

The Beach House debuts July 10, 2020 on Shudder.

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