Cosmic horror and body horror make for a potent, deadly duo in The Beach House (2019), the debut feature from writer/director Jeffrey A. Brown. Though the film serves up tropes previously explored by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, it serves up an increasingly eerie ambience that builds to an ending that is claustrophobic despite its seaside setting.

Emily (Liana Liberato of If I Stay) and her boyfriend Randall (Noah Le Gros of A Score to Settle) go to the latter’s family beach house during the off-season for a quiet getaway, and to try and work out some differences between what they each want out of life. Emily is driven and pursuing a Master’s Degree in astrobiology, while college-dropout Randall is drifting and would be content with just basically freeloading off his parents and living without future plans at the titular abode with Emily. 

Those plans for a quiet time together are upended when the two discover that middle-aged couple Jane (Maryanne Nagel of Deadtime Stories) and Mitch (Jake Weber of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake) have already started staying there at the invitation of Randall’s father. Randall is quick to accept the presence of the two strangers, though Emily has reservations. Soon enough, though, the two couples start warming up to each other, enough to cautiously take Randall up on his offer of some after-dinner CBD chocolate. The highs from consuming the dessert are confused with the arrival of a beautiful but deadly presence on the shore and the area surrounding the house, a presence that will make itself known in horrifying ways.

Basically a four-hander, The Beach House boasts fine turns by its four leads. Liberato stands out with her performance as an intelligent, strong young woman with ambition and a useful sense of caution. Le Gros portrays can’t-be-bothered Randall solidly. The two actors have a realistic chemistry between them. Nagel and Weber bring a curious edge to their roles, keeping viewers off guard from their initial appearances as to how truthful they are being with the younger couple and infusing their characters with a mysterious edge.

Brown’s dialogue cleverly plays on the generation gap between the couples and the contrast between Emily’s scientific knowledge and the highly emotional situations of each of the two couples. Brown takes a slow-burn route to the nail-biting, goopy third act, but he does so with a constant sense of dread throughout. Lingering shots on the ocean and close-up shots of sea water and tap water alike — and certain designs and elements in each — become unsettling and gorgeous at the same time, thanks to Owen Levelle’s fine cinematography. 

Seasoned horror film viewers will find nods to famous fright-fare films and directors in The Beach House, especially once the third act takes hold. I don’t want to spoil that fun here, so that first-time viewers can discover and enjoy those references on their own. The film is bleak, brooding, and unnerving, yet looks beautiful all the while. Brown turns in a fine debut effort that will leave viewers wincing and thinking.

The Beach House will be available exclusively on Shudder in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Canada from 9 July.