The Beach House

★★★

“The Beach House,” now streaming on Shudder, will make you glad you’re skipping a seaside vacation in this summer of COVID-19.

Randall (Noah Le Gros, son of actor James) and Emily (Liana Liberato) are a college-aged couple looking to have a weekend getaway at Randall’s Dad’s “deserted” beach house. He’s a slacker who’s dropped out of school; she’s looking to attend grad school where she’ll study astrobiology. (Holy foreshadowing, Barnacleman!) They’re at the house in hopes of fixing their fractured relationship.

Even though the town’s essentially empty, it turns out the house isn’t. Randall’s Dad’s friends Mitch (Jake Webber) and Jane (Maryanne Nagel) are also visiting, which is news to Randall as he and his Dad are sorta estranged. The couples decide that there’s plenty of space for both of them and agree to share the house for the weekend.

They proceed to break bread together, drink and ingest edibles. Stoned, the couples take in a nighttime observation of the beach before them. Everything is covered in an otherworldly purple gleam. A thick fog begins rolling in, which when inhaled has serious ramifications.

The actors all do a nice job – there are only four of them and one primary location – this could easily be a play! It was interesting watching Le Gros work as I often saw Roach from “Point Break” or the himbo leading man from “Living in Oblivion” … the kid strongly resembles his Pop. Webber is a performer I’ve generally enjoyed and have often found underrated. (Fun Fact: Senior Le Gros and Webber appeared together in Oliver Stone’s “Born on the Fourth of July.”) Whether it was on the Sam Raimi-produced CBS supernatural serial “American Gothic,” Mike Binder’s HBO comedy series “Mind of the Married Man” or in Zack Snyder’s remake of George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” Webber has often exuded an understated cool. He goes somewhat goofily over-the-top in “The Beach House,” calling to mind elements of Nicolas Cage’s performance in the recent “Color Out of Space” – a movie this will most assuredly be compared with due to its H.P. Lovecraft influences. Performance-wise, the standout of the bunch is easily Liberato. She’s a cute kid, the audience surrogate and reads as smart on screen. I imagine viewers will root for her … I certainly did.

“The Beach House” is the feature writing and directorial debut of Jeffrey A. Brown, a location manager who worked on “The Dead Don’t Die,” “Demolition,” “Non-Stop” and “They Came Together.” He shows a deft hand even if the beginning is too slow and the conclusion too rushed. Unsurprisingly, Brown does wonders with location. He and his cinematographer Owen Levelle shoot stairs terrifyingly on more than one occasion.

“The Beach House” isn’t as visually sumptuous as “Color Out of Space” nor is its body horror anywhere near as horrifying, but I’d argue it’s more accessible to general audiences and Brown and his collaborators achieve plenty with a limited budget and without a movie star such as Cage. (I was also reminded of Barry Levinson’s 2012 effort “The Bay,” but this has a much less overt environmental bent.) Special shout out to the art and effects departments as I won’t soon forget the wonton-looking pods littering the beach (Podstickers?), the semen-type substance characters barf when infected by parasites nor a sequence of podiatric pain so brutal it’d make Bruce Willis’ John McClane blush.

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