Getting its release in the heart of summer during a global pandemic certainly doesn’t hurt director Jeffrey A. Brown’s debut feature The Beach House from feeling particularly timely and relevant. And though there are certainly a handful of decent scares and a solid, pervading air of uneasiness, the story and script—despite seeming sufficient in the moment—tend to falter the more you think about them. (The Beach House is streaming exclusively on Shudder.)

Liana Liberato (continuing her breakout year) leads the way as Emily, who is headed to the Cape with her boyfriend Randall (Noah Le Gros) for a pre-Memorial Day stay at his dad’s empty coastal home. Randall, however, isn’t exactly in good standing with his parents after deciding to ditch college, and he therefore has no way of knowing that the house is already occupied by his parents’ friends Jane (Maryann Nagel) and Mitch (Jake Weber). No matter, though—the more the merrier.

While there’s an inherent sense of foreboding hanging over the first half of the film, it never amounts to much, particularly in retrospect. Sure, the entire town is abandoned, and Emily and Randall are trying to work through a rough patch in their relationship, and Jane is living with some kind of illness that requires a cabinet full of medications, but every one of those plot points is abandoned as quickly as it’s introduced. It’s as if Brown felt he couldn’t just introduce us to the creepy-crawlies without first padding his script with pages of unnecessary set-up. Exposition is one thing, but when it doesn’t lead anywhere, it’s just empty filler.

Eventually, after a dinner of oysters and a late-night snack of edibles, The Beach House finally starts to kick into gear with the arrival of a weird smell in the air, a thick fog, and the appearance of some bioluminescent goo. The next morning, we only get more questions, as we discover that Jane is clearly infected with something, Randall isn’t feeling well, and Mitch is nowhere to be found. Plus, the tap water is kinda slimy. Before long, Emily succumbs too, leading up to a gnarly scene where she yanks a foot-long parasitic worm out of her infected foot. If you are ever in need of a quintessential “That Escalated Quickly” scene, look no further.

Drawing on fears that other movies presented much more effectively (LifeAlienThe Thing), The Beach House takes far too long to get going, and when it finally does, the quality filmmaking gets overshadowed by an all-over-the-place script. (Is the invading species in the fog? The oysters? The sink? The mutant jellyfish? All of the above?). In fact, the only pseudo-answers we ever get are vaguely provided in a garbled, almost unintelligible background newscast in the closing minutes.

There’s no doubt Brown does have talent behind the lens, often lingering on a shot a little more than is conventional to hammer home a point or by using only natural lighting to give a vérité feel. Where he still seems to be lacking is in his storytelling. Indeed, a decent movie is buried somewhere in The Beach House, but we could dig in the sand all we want, and we may never find it.


2/5 stars