Living in Northern California, it’s only a matter of time before you’re invited to hike. In fact, it’s about as normalized as any sort of toxic news cycle buffoonery we put up with today. So when you’re invited to go on one, you’re usually down to go. At least until you watch Beacon Point.
Centering on a 10-day hike in a picturesque mountain range, the film is low budget and to the point, but underpins its narrative with basic human vices that make the late-stage frights palatable. After an ominous slaughter in the forest, the film opens with Trailmaster Drake (Jon Briddell) accidentally murdering his boss. His getaway is blocked by the arrival of that morning’s hiking group – Zoe (Rae Olivier), Dan (Eric Goins), Brian (Jason Burkey), and Cheese (RJ Shearer) – all of whom are exceptionally pushy about going on this particular hike. So instead of finding a better lie, Drake brashly takes the group off the beaten path…right into the clutches of more dangerous and murderous forces in the woods.
“The narrative and characters are functional, and not bad. But they pale in comparison to Beacon Point’s true star: the hike and nature itself.”
The rest of the movie plays out on pretty direct rails, with some sublime scares and reveals that end up being more about a loosely put together backstory than anything else. The narrative and characters are functional and often as goofy as they are serious. But they pale in comparison to Beacon Point’s true star: the hike and nature itself. Director Eric Blue and DP Jim McKinney might as well have been shooting an ad for the mountain range, with beautiful, stark shots of sweeping hills, valleys and forest. It’s surprisingly delightful and can break the suspense and trauma of the movie’s scarier parts. That said, Beacon Point doesn’t let you forget it’s a fright fest, with a fitting epilogue and some jarring screaming-while-looking-into-the-camera-during-quick-cuts sequences.
Despite these insertions, the film does struggle to maintain a spooky atmosphere. Part of this may have to do with lighting: much of Beacon Point is set out in the open, in broad a*s daylight. In contrast, a flashback to Zoe’s childhood, the aforementioned sequence of implantation/kidnapping, and a few smaller scenes occur at night. This in turn provides an uneven thematic experience. Most horror films rely on darkness and the unknown to dig into you and awaken your unconscious’ deepest fears. Beacon Point – be it due to budget or narrative aim – uses it sparingly instead.
“…Beacon Point is a Twilight Zone episode that runs long in the tooth.”
By going for a sublime fear of human danger (Drake’s murderous secret) and the exhausting feeling of surveillance and starvation on a marathon-esque hike, Beacon Point struggles to construct the same sense of dread and emotional investment that a Walking Dead pulls off. This isn’t something to belabour: we’re comparing big bank and little bank in terms of funding. And a good daylight horror is hard to do period. But it’s important to note because Beacon Point does at least try to thread the needle by building emotional ties between Zoe and the others, and even killing off a few people. Sadly, it doesn’t fully work the way I think it’s intended and the film suffers for it.
Besides this issue of balancing actual horrific moments, Beacon Point is also weighed down by the fact that it could’ve been shorter. Considering the lack of a heady story and the dalliances in unintentional hiking advertising, Beacon Point is a Twilight Zone episode that runs long in the tooth. Which works if you walk into your viewing expecting such. But for most watchers, it detracts from the good things. Despite this, I understand the need to shoot for a feature instead of a short if that’s what you’re after. And ultimately, I think it’s a good low-budget film in that it makes great use of its resources. So in watching it, you may get some thrills and chills. And then you’ll go hiking. Hopefully without the manslaughter, experiments and self-inflicted blindness.
Beacon Point (2016) Directed by Eric Blue. Written by Rae Olivier, Jon Briddell, Eric Goins, Jason Burkey, RJ Shearer.
2.5 out of 5