Shudder’s new horror movie Beach House isn’t precisely attempting to be modern: it’s principally a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with some zombie-movie tropes thrown in. But there’s nothing unsuitable with going again to tried-and-true favorites, particularly once you’re good sufficient to replace them so that they resonate with present anxieties and horrors. Writer-director Jeffrey Brown is probably not an innovator, however he has a poetic knack for coaxing the outdated roots of dread into contemporary, cancerous bloom.
The Beach House opens with younger twentysomething couple Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) driving as much as Randall’s dad’s seaside home for an low season romantic getaway. They’re stunned when two of Randall’s father’s mates present up to make use of the home too — the critically unwell Jane (Maryanne Nagel) and her husband Mitch (Jake Weber). The 4 agree there’s room sufficient for all of them, they usually get to know one another over some edibles.
Shortly after everybody will get excessive, the world predictably descends into chaos, as a bizarre mist results in gross an infection, vomiting, flesh-penetrating worms, and gargling zombies, not essentially in that order. Emily and Randall desperately attempt to go for assist, hindered by the truth that they inexplicably don’t appear to personal cell telephones. Low-budget special-effects ooze is deployed with canny, nauseating precision, and delicate viewers could not eat seafood or stroll on the seaside for a while.
The early a part of the movie delves into Emily and Randall’s relationship tensions. Emily needs to go to grad faculty. Randall needs them to stay collectively on the seaside home on a everlasting trip. Brown initially appears to be organising a Midsommar-esque parable about crappy, self-absorbed boyfriends and their downfall. He additionally drops hints about Jane’s sickness, and Randall’s tense relationship along with his offscreen father, Doc.
But these are all feints somewhat than severe thematic issues. Jane, Mitch, and even Randall fade out pretty shortly, and the movie focuses on Emily, performed by the gifted Liberato with an excellent mixture of nerdy oddity and grit. Emily is planning to turn into an astrobiologist, learning life in excessive environments on the backside of the ocean, and she or he recites her monologue about her chosen career with a half-embarrassed wistful energy. “Life is so fragile, and we’re the right combination of elements, the right temperature, the right distance from the sun. And this measure of time spent developing and changing — billions of years, and one thing’s slightly off and we would be nothing, dust or gas or something. I’m in awe of it.”
That monologue, and a few ominous soundtrack drones because the digital camera zooms in on water popping out of the faucets, are among the many few clues the viewer will get as to what precisely is going on in the home or on the seaside. Brown isn’t thinking about clarification, a lot as in evocative imagery: Jane wandering by way of an oddly glittering panorama at evening earlier than she begins to cough. Someone strolling into the water from the seaside in a protracted shot, getting farther and farther away, barely seen, earlier than they disappear within the huge, empty blue. Strange shells on the seaside stretching to the horizon. The world being swallowed in a crimson, billowing cloud. Crackling voices over a two-way radio whispering warnings about an infection.
Even the zombies, after they arrive, are atmospheric somewhat than a concrete risk — an unsightly meat wallpaper masks worn by one thing with no face. The Beach House’s blank-eyed contaminated are extra hapless than the traditional slow-moving George Romero undead, who at the very least stand upright. Brown’s zombies merely crawl alongside the bottom and rasp in an agonized parody of illness. They hardly appear harmful. Their one profitable assault on a stay particular person is offscreen, and never even recounted as a reminiscence. It’s an unsightly, eloquent clean. In The Beach House, humanity by no means sees what has devoured it.
Horror followers who’ve watched numerous variations of Body Snatchers and associated movies, from John Carpenter’s The Thing to Richard Stanley’s latest Color Out of Space adaptation, may have a fairly good concept of what’s occurring. But the distinction with earlier tales creates its personal type of queasy resonance.
The authentic 1956 Body Snatchers movie is a Cold War parable, because the Communist-like hive thoughts slips an alien ideology into the nice folks of small-town America. The equally well-known 1978 remake retains the conspiratorial plot, however massages the signifiers; when mustachioed, funky hero Donald Sutherland falls to the aliens, the metaphor appears to be extra in regards to the stifling impact of home American conformity than about overseas socialist imposition.
Whatever the precise analogies, each films, and the later diversifications, are about rationalization and regimentation. The intergalactic invaders have a plan, and the horror comes from characters studying that they’re a part of. It’s a conflict of horrible objective. The victims whose our bodies are snatched turn into pulpy cogs in a frighteningly natural machine.
After the autumn of the united states, the imaginative and prescient of implacable outdoors subversion doesn’t fairly have the identical relevance. Instead, Brown turns Body Snatchers right into a extra obscure apocalypse. There doesn’t appear to be any controlling intelligence behind the mist or its results. There’s no plan to overcome the US, and even to get these rattling hippies. Instead, as Emily says, life is just fragile, and begins dissolving into slimy waste virtually of its personal accord.
Even although the movie was created earlier than this present pandemic, the COVID-19 analogy is clear: particles within the air result in mysterious, ugly signs, transmitted through unsure means. “You see someone change in front of you, and you know they’re not getting better. There’s no going back. It scares me to death,” Mitch says.
But whereas The Beach House evokes concern of illness, it’s actually extra broadly a couple of world by which the apocalypse goes on despite, and even due to, an absence of clear enemies. The solely factor worse than being plotted in opposition to is to lose the plot fully. The heroes in Invasion of the Body Snatchers at the very least have foes to struggle. You can punch the individuals who have gone over to the opposite aspect, however you’ll be able to’t shoot a mist.
The Beach House isn’t as nice as its most well-known predecessors. The 1956 and 1978 Body Snatchers movies are each masterpieces of fastidiously paced, escalating paranoia — they’re exhausting to prime, particularly on a modest price range. The largest downside for Brown is that he isn’t fully keen to decide to his personal obscurity. There’s a David Lynch-style dream-logic movie squirming round inside Beach House, which Brown has to placate with occasional gestures towards typical exposition and causes. The worst misstep is the unlucky schlock-shock coda on the very finish of the film, which is so out of holding with the tone that it appears to have skittered in from one other movie altogether.
But the place the Beach House isn’t precisely a masterpiece, it’s nonetheless an impressively deft inheritor to a few of the horror style’s greatest apocalypses. Brown needs to be recommended for determining that the world nowadays isn’t ending with a conquest, however with a quiet, moist cough, just like the sound of water over sand.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought through affiliate hyperlinks. For extra info, see our ethics coverage.