By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
In the aquatic body horror film THE BEACH HOUSE, writer/director Jeffrey Brown keeps his cards close to his chest. Transplanting the typical cabin in the woods to a vacation home during the off-season means plenty of isolation in unfortunate proximity to the ocean. Though the film has been streaming on Shudder since July, it is now finally getting its physical release thanks to RLJE Films. We recently got to pick Brown’s brain about how he constructed one of the more terrifying films of 2020.
How did you choose the location for THE BEACH HOUSE? As a New Englander, it looks very specific to me, but it also works on multiple levels.
I’ve done locations on movies for about 20 years. The initial idea came from the Jersey shore. Even though the Jersey shore portrayed on the reality show has one look, there are sections that have these nice, big, old beach houses. A production designer friend of mine and I were there in an old beach house, and we thought it was such a great location; we should figure out how to make a movie in an old beach house. Between writing and scouting and shooting was a long period. I went to look at the Jersey shore, both forks of Long Island, and Cape Cod. Cape Cod has these traditional beach houses. Through luck and through our producers we wound up there. In the off-season it has this gray, Edward Hopper-esque look. When we were shooting it we said it was, “Edward Hopper goes to hell.” This look worked very well for the script.
Aside from the location, where did the idea for THE BEACH HOUSE come from?
I came from working on low-budget, independent movies. We reverse-engineered the script, which I would not recommend. It was one location and four people. In the end, of course, there are more locations. This is one of the harder scripts I’ve had to work on because it is so easy to get out of those constraints, but we didn’t want to do that. It is a blend of the mumblecore, handheld, character-driven indie film, with cosmic horror, science fiction. That evolved over time. In my initial script, you didn’t really know what was going on. I did some research on astrobiology, which is a newer field and a bit of a mishmash of different fields. There is geology, biology, chemistry, genetics, all sorts of things. There is a sense of deep time and deep history. At the same time I was reading Lovecraft –The Colour Out of Space specifically – and the sense of cosmic horror and how insignificant we are. I found it scary that this sensibility from the 1910s and 1920s, when science was moving into horror rather than gothic horror. This really pertains to climate change. The mindset of Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, grafted onto climate change, through contemporary science, felt like a natural fit to me. The bottom line is, I wanted to make something I hadn’t seen before in a movie. I think people make movies that they aren’t seeing, and I wanted to see this.
What do you hope the audience takes away from seeing THE BEACH HOUSE?
The film is a journey. I think if you want to get really lofty, there is an approach to life in the film. Emily [Liana Liberato] faces different types of adversity and danger on a massive scale. What she repeats to herself is a mantra for dealing with life and these problems. These things around us our terrifying, but if you panic, or have a knee jerk reaction, or spite, it doesn’t really help the problem. I don’t know if these are problems that can be solved, but with a level head, there is a way to get through. On top of that, I want it to be a surprising film for the audience. I don’t want them to know where it is going to wind up. Hopefully, they come out overwhelmed and a little dizzy, with some stomach-churning effects.
Perhaps one of the lessons learned is to not date guys like Randall…
I’m a little sympathetic to Randall [Noah Le Gros]. Yes, he’s not a great guy, but he is 20 or 21. He’s acting in his own self-interest, but I would hope over time he would grow or change. If he applied Emily’s approach to his own, maybe he would grow into a better person. That’s a testament to Noah’s performance. He is a great guy, but the character is not.
Emily is smart, both in practice and book smart. When you mentioned wanting to make movies with things you haven’t seen before, does a smart female character fit into that too?
Absolutely. Sophia Lin, one of our producers, was instrumental in this. She didn’t want her doing anything the audience wouldn’t do themselves. So it started there, then it branched out to being broadly about a well-grounded character. She’s intelligent and curious about the world. In my mind, that is the person who is going to survive until the end. I’m attracted to intelligent, stronger women, so that was something else I wanted in the film. I don’t see this too often in most horror films.
THE BEACH HOUSE is now available on Shudder, VOD, Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray from RLJE Films.