Beach House

Eastern Long Island is known for privacy, tranquility, and affluence, making it a popular getaway for those who can afford it. The quiet solitude also makes for a great background to a horror thriller, as shown in exploitation shockers like Funny Games, Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave. (Yes, the latter two were based in Connecticut, but the escapist seclusion aspect remains the same.) Director Jason Saltiel attempts to use this as the backdrop for his psychological thriller, Beach House, but instead delivers something as boring and superficial as the environment it portrays.

Catherine and Henry vacation in their beach house along with their college-age daughter Emma (Willa Fitzgerald). Henry (Thomas M. Hammond) seems like a nice enough guy and decent step-father while his wife Catherine (Orlagh Cassidy), a former Lower Manhattan bohemian artist, butts heads with their aspiring writer daughter over finishing school vs. a trip to Berlin. A surprise visit from one of Catherine’s artist ex-boyfriends, however, sets things askew. Paul (Murray Bartlett) takes “edgy” photographs of staged murder scenes, drinks a lot, hits on Emma and generally makes his presence a nuisance. Emma finds some giallo-inspired Polaroids he took of his model ex-girlfriend and convinces herself that he murdered her. The parents kick him out for hitting on their daughter, but Emma believes it’s for more, ultimately proving herself right when he returns to the house while they’re out of town.

“…finds some giallo-inspired Polaroids and convinces herself that he murdered her…”

It doesn’t sound that exciting because it isn’t. The story takes forever to get anywhere and, when it finally does, you’re so bored that you don’t even care about the dud pay-off. It’s one of those attempted psychodramas that sucks you in with a promising outcome but leaves you naked on the beach with no towel wondering why the hell you let it bring you there in the first place.

There are some technical issues as well. The sound is uneven, which takes a toll on the dialog. Sure, this is a low-budget independent feature, but sometimes you need to loop. There’s also a disconnection between the cinematography and editing. At first, it seems intentional to set us on edge but then shots get drawn out too long and the angles don’t mesh and it just looks a bit ugly.

“…the makings of great low-budget horror: limited cast, isolation and a somewhat plausible variable.”

This is a rare case where the actors actually save the film from being an utter waste of time. While there’s nothing spectacular, they all do an excellent job and obviously, try to elevate the story beyond its meager limitations. Unfortunately, they just don’t have enough wind to lift the sails on this sandbar-trapped sloop.

Beach House has all the makings of great low-budget horror: limited cast, isolation and a somewhat plausible variable. Sadly, these elements get lost in messy camerawork and a mundane screenplay. Much like the region, it appears enjoyable at first, but quickly loses appeal over time. Skip this one unless you like being annoyed and disappointed for ninety minutes.

Beach House Directed by Jason Saltiel. Written by Jason Saltiel and Matt Simon. Starring Willa Fitzgerald, Murray Bartlett, Orlagh Cassidy and Thomas M. Hammond.

3 out of 10 stars

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