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The Beach House delivers on its promise of apocalyptic nightmares
★★★★ | Life’s a beach and then you die
I think expectations are a good thing. Knowing the difference between expectation and hype is an even better one.
When Night Visions aired the Shudder original Brooklyn 45 last October, I fell head over heels for it. Hearing that The Beach House, a love letter to Stephen King, was from the same studio, got my hopes up.
And you can see the same thoughtful, smart chills all over The Beach House. It makes great use of its limited setting and cast. But it’s not Brooklyn 45, and it’s not The Evil Dead.
It’s more akin to Color Out of Space, specifically the Nicolas Cage adaptation from a few years back. Like Richard Stanley’s low-key terror, The Beach House simmers more than it burns. Yes, there are flares of some nasty body horror and more traditional jump scares. But for the most part, The Beach House is scary for its implications. In the moments where we share the uncertainty and disbelief of the main characters, it taps into a universal and haunting primal fear.
Clocking in at a brisk 80 minutes, The Beach House never outstays its welcome. But it does run out of stamina by the end. Another minute more, and I would have glanced at my watch. It’s the sign of a good director to know when to go.
The setup is horror-genre familiar. Two couples, one young and one older, meet by accident in a remote beach house. For reasons that matter only in the peripheral, they decide to share the place for a weekend. At night, they party and drink, grasping at some semblance of normality and happiness.
The following morning, something is off. The water feels wrong. The air is thick. Everyone feels disoriented. It’s as if all life has just vanished as the tide rolled back.
These moments of longing and melancholia form a humane backbone to the terror. Whether it’s the younger couple knowing they’re circling the drain, but too scared to say it. Or the older pair refusing to admit their candles are about to burn out. Their shared moments of desperate bonding are reminiscent of Jaws, where terrified men admit their vulnerabilities through good-hearted machismo. When faced with the end, all you can do is smile, even through gritted teeth.
If you’ve seen any other apocalyptic nightmare that comes naturally to this genre, you’ll know the beats before they hit. But it doesn’t hinder the film. There’s a comfort in knowing because everything else is so unnervingly off. A single image of a lone swimmer disappearing into the distance has the same haunting effect as classic ‘70s features - the kind where societal paranoia and fear seeped into cinema.
In that sense, The Beach House feels more than timely, despite having filmed already in 2019. The pandemic years made time lose much of its meaning. And now the planet itself recoils from our very existence. The Beach House taps into that anxiety and knows precisely which strings to pull.
And while it doesn’t quite stick the landing, there’s more to love than complain about. For every clunky moment, such as a bit involving some dated “my god, is that marijuana?” back and forth, The Beach House delivers good, old-fashioned terror by the bucketload.
Just go in with the right kind of expectations.
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