The Beach House (3 stars)

The Beach House

Liana Liberato is the plucky heroine in this intriguing environmental horror

Nature bites back in an ingenious environmental horror that marks the directorial debut of Jeffrey A Brown (the location manager for a host of recognisable film and TV fare, including Master of None and The Dead Don't Die). Featuring rising star Liana Liberato (Banana Split) as its resourceful heroine and with a title which gives no sense of what to expect, The Beach House boasts an intelligent, well-explored idea at its core and comes at the encroaching threat from an enjoyably leftfield place.

Although the themes are in situ from the off, it isn't obvious how the horror will manifest itself as college sweethearts Emily (Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) rock up at his dad's beach property ahead of the tourist season. With their relationship shaky and Randall questioning what he wants from life, they clearly need time and space to talk, so are disappointed to find a middle-aged couple – Jake Weber's Mitch and Maryann Nagel's Jane – already settled into the summer house, and somewhat awkwardly end up spending an evening with them. Weber and Nagel are very good as the seemingly benign older pair who are persuaded to partake in some fairly tame recreational drugs.

The film's initial unpredictability and its discussion of scientific and ecological themes are its strengths. Emily is interested in unpicking the origins of life by studying deep sea organisms, and her trippy discussions with Jane act as a bridge of sorts, over which crosses tangible danger. Sadly, things ultimately descend into more generic territory, with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Fog reference points for later scenes.

Despite the quality of the cast, the film never manages to consistently transcend what is obviously a low budget; there are some strong practical effects, including a monstrous late-in-the-game reveal, but the red mist that comes to consume the town only serves to cheapen the ordeal. And, as chilling, visually arresting and occasionally atmospheric as it gets, The Beach House doesn't feel particularly scary. For a horror, that's clearly a problem, but Brown remains one to watch.

Available to watch on Shudder from Thu 9 Jul.

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