Movies like The Beach House don’t come along often. That’s not to say that horror/sci-fi mashups are uncommon—quite the contrary, but it’s rare to find one that delivers such large-scale terror with so few actors or locations. Jeffrey A. Brown’s feature debut captures the very essence of what makes horror/sci-fi great and delivers an otherworldly nightmare that feels both remarkably human and scary as hell.

After putting their relationship on hold for a bit, Emily and Randall decide to reconnect at a family beach house. Unbeknownst to them, some friends of Randall’s father had the same idea. After some awkward introductions and a bit of conversation, both couples decide to make the most of their time together and share the house for the weekend. But once an ominous fog begins to appear, it becomes apparent to the audience that a couple of unexpected housemates should be the least of anyone’s concerns. Something is coming, and it probably isn’t good.

an otherworldly nightmare that feels both remarkably human and scary as hell.

That’s the simple setup of The Beach House—four characters, one location, and some creepy fog. Parallels can (and will) be drawn to any number of genre classics (The Mist, The Fog, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, etc.), but the smaller scale, standout performances, and gnarly practical effects allow it to stand on its own merit. Brown iterates on the innovations of those that came before him, sure, but he’s no swagger jacker. The Beach House finds its own voice through its characters—particularly the character of Emily (played by Liana Liberato)—who may or may not hold the answers that the audience so desperately craves by the time it’s all said and done. It’s a bit of an enigma. There’s definitely something much larger at the heart of the narrative, but viewers are only granted a glimpse of it. This might lead to frustration or confusion for those that prefer their films to be wrapped up in a pretty package when the credits roll—because that’s certainly not the case here. I believe it’s a better film for it, though.

The Beach House plays in a familiar sandbox, but the end result is well-crafted and unique. Aesthetically speaking, it’s fantastic. Brown’s previous work in location management almost certainly played a role in the picturesque backdrop of the small beach community that our characters visit, and cinematographer Owen Levelle is able to capture it all in a way that feels appropriately relaxing yet eerily disconnected. The editing is tight, the musical composition fits like a glove, and when the going gets tough, the practical effects are both shocking and teethgrittingly good. It’s a major win for small, independent horror. Avoid spoilers, and give it a watch as soon as you can.

The Beach House was screened at the 2020 Chattanooga Film Festival.