Sometimes the most terrifying circumstances in fictional stories can be those situations that are rooted in reality. That’s certainly the case for the new horror film, ‘The Beach House.’ The sci-fi drama, which was conceived and shot before the outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year, powerfully brings together a timely, atmospheric and iconic mix of mysterious contagion, ecological dissent and body horror. The chilling story proves that both before and after the onset of an international health crisis, seclusion that’s caused by external factors can bring on isolated agitation that’s difficult to defeat.
The apocalyptic movie marks the writing and directorial feature debut of Jeffrey A. Brown. ‘The Beach House’ is now available on VOD, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of RLJE Films. The mystery drama’s digital and disc release comes after it premiered on Shudder this past July, and was an official selection at such festivals as the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, the Chattanooga Film Festival, the Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival, where it had its world premiere, and the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival.
‘The Beach House’ follows college students Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) as they set out to reignite their relationship. So they decide to take an impromptu weekend getaway to his father’s title home, in an effort to spend time alone before tourists begin flocking to the small beach community for the summer season. But when they arrive, the young couple is surprised to discover that a peculiar older couple, Mitch and Jane (Jake Weber and Maryann Nagel), who are friends with Randall’s father, are already staying there.
Despite their initial surprise of seeing the other couple, they all eventually agree to share the home. However, after an indulgent night of partying, they’re awoken the next morning to a living nightmare of apocalyptic proportions. A mysterious airborne microbe has infected the water surrounding the house, which makes both couples not only contemplate the meaning of life, but fight for their survival.
Brown and Le Gros generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and starring in ‘The Beach House’ during individual exclusive interviews over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker and actor discussed that while they didn’t have much time to rehearse together before they began shooting the drama, they enjoyed working together, as they were clear on what they wanted to include in the timely story. The duo also shared that the movie was shot on location in North Truro, Massachusetts before the busy summer season began, which allowed them to showcase that the characters’ mindsets are deteriorating as a result of being isolated during an ecological health crisis.
The conversation with Brown revealing what inspired him to pen the script for ‘The Beach House.’ “The broadest concept for the story came from the idea of making a horror film about four people who are in one location. I also like beach houses, as I think they’re aesthetically beautiful, and they’re usually pretty big. So not only do they have a presence to them, but they also have a production friendliness to them because of their size,” he noted.
“I was discussing this years ago with a friend, and I said, ‘Why can’t we set a movie in a beach house?’ So that always stuck with me,” the scribe revealed.
“Then, when I started working with one of the producers, Sophia Lin, about how to make a low-budget movie that’s based around a beach house with a limited number of characters. That was kind of reverse engineering the script, and I wouldn’t recommend (writing a script) the way I did,” Brown admitted. “You should probably come up with the story first, and then find a location and the production parameters. But at the same time, we always knew it was going to be a small movie because of the journey I wanted the characters to go on.
“We had a long period in which we did re-writes, during which time we accumulated ideas. I’m interested in what Emily’s interested in, in terms of astrobiology and life on our planet. I’ve never really seen that wave of science in any films…besides broad strokes in ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ or ‘War of the Worlds,'” the writer continued.
“Overall, the structure of the movie was meant to be jarring. I think horror fans are more willing to go with things that don’t play by the rules of script and act structures in movies. A lot of times, I feel like the third act in films resolve what’s already been set up,” Brown noted.
“But with this movie, I didn’t want viewers to know where the story was going, not only in terms of narrative and character resolution, but also in terms of what genre it is,” the filmmaker revealed. “To me, genre is an after thought; I knew this was a horror film, but beyond that, I didn’t want (the audience) to know what type of horror film it is, what the antagonist is and what’s going to happen.
“I wanted the audience to discover it as the characters do; the characters aren’t thinking about what genre of film the movie is. This isn’t a meta horror film, in which they’re commenting on the action…this is an experimental film, in which the characters and audience are experiencing everything together, and no one knows where the story’s going. That, to me, is more realistic, in terms of pertaining a movie to people’s lives,” Brown divulged.
“When I write, I try to be true to myself, and explore things that I’m scare of and concerned about. So you write to try to keep the demons at bay, and you don’t want to see them out there. So it’s eerie to have the film coming out now during the pandemic,” the scribe admitted.
Le Gros began his interview by sharing what elements of the screenplay drew him to play Randall in the film. “I think I got the script from my management, and I immediately liked it. I thought it was really fresh and intriguing. I get a lot of scripts, and some of them seem really similar, but this one really stood out, and referenced a lot of cool things I like,” he divulged. “It immediately felt right, and I thought it was well thought out.
“I then spoke to Jeff, and we talked about influences and references, and things we’re interested in when it comes to movies. They’re all very specific and clear, and all things I thought were good and worked really well in this movie,” the actor continued. “That’s what got me really interested in working on the film. After meeting with Jeff, I thought, this is going to be really cool.”
Le Gros continued that he thinks “Randall is interesting. In my own life, I don’t have a ton in common with him. But I think we represents moments that all of us have of not being sure of what to do, and trying to figure things out.
“But I think Randall’s important because he’s a real solid foil to Liana’s character of Emily. I wanted to do the best possible job of finding the flip side to her-she’s super smart and together,” the performer added.
Once principal photography on ‘The Beach House’ started, and Brown was able to switch gears and begin to fully work as the helmer, he embraced the experience of making his feature film directorial debut. “I’m really sensitive to lighting in a film, especially on horror films…I respond more to films that have natural lighting,” he shared.
“When you light a room, instead of just the shot, for example, it allows you to shoot more. You can let the actors do things, and they’re not necessarily tied down to hitting marks” all of the time,” the filmmaker explained. “In doing that, you shoot a lot of footage, instead of doing a more precise style of filming, like always sticking to storyboards.
“We did have some sequences in some of the scenes with the creatures in which they were storyboarded. But in the end, I felt like some of the sequences that were storyboarded didn’t work as well as some of the ones that we sculpted almost like a documentary,” Brown added.
Taking that natural approach “helped the actors with their performances. There are only four roles in the whole film…They were able to give looks in certain moments that I think helped with their performances, and give their characters some depth,” the helmer added.
Speaking of the four main characters that appear in the drama, Brown admitted that due to the fact that ‘The Beach House’ was made independently, he didn’t have any “rehearsal time with the actors. I think the only one I met before we began shooting was Noah, who plays Randall, and we had a lovely lunch.
“I don’t think we even had a script ready; it was pretty much that they were hired, they came out to the set and then we threw them into it. I wanted to capitalize on the energy that comes from that element of surprise of discovering the script” during the shoot, the filmmaker divulged.
“It was one of those instances where it was either sink or swim, and you hope that they’re on board with what we’re throwing at them,” Brown shared. “But it worked out very well, and we were fortunate to get the actors we did. They all brought different styles of acting and experience levels, so it was interesting to see how their different acting played.”
La Gros also praised Brown’s work as the director of the movie during the production. “It was great to work with him. Again, he was so clear on what he wanted. It’s fun sometimes to be able to do what you want, but it’s also nice sometimes to have a clear idea of what you’re going for, as it allows you to make more specific choices,” the actor shared.
“Jeff was always very clear on what he wanted, but he never told people to do things a certain way. He referenced certain films, and sent me certain songs, that helped me think about ideas that he wanted me to address,” Le Gros continued. “I think when you work with a writer-director who’s so specific and focused, it makes your job an actor’s job that much easier. He made it feel as though us actors were working with a friend.”
Also following up on what his collaboration with Liberato was like during the production on ‘The Beach House,’ the actor shared that “It was great. We all got along really well. Liana and I were there for the entire run of the shoot, so we spent a ton of time together. That led to us becoming friends, so working together became very easy. When you’re comfortable around people and like each other, it makes the whole process much easier.”
La Gros then referenced one particular scene in the film, in which he, Liberato, Weber and Nagel’s characters had dinner together at the title beach house on the first night Randall and Emily arrived there. “That was the first big scene that we shot with Jake and Maryanne, and it was fun. There’s a certain levity to the scene, and that was because it was light and fun,” he divulged.
While shooting their scenes together, the cast “tried to stick to the script as much as possible. I think the writing’s really strong, but there’s a certain amount of improvisation that happens regardless; every take is always a little different,” Le Gros divulged.
“Whenever you’re working on a movie of this (small) size, you’re always trying to find the most effective way to get the point across, whether that’s changing the words or the blocking, and working around the camera. Not everything was set, and every take was different. We’d run through things to see how they felt, and then we’d change things, if needed,” the performer added. “That way, you can find the best way to communicate what you’re trying to communicate.”
Continuing the discussion about the blocking, Le Gros Further divulged what the process of creating the stunt work was like for ‘The Beach House.’ “That was one of my favorite parts of the movie. I remember Jeff talking about…the way things really feel. That was something I really asked myself throughout the production, particularly as Randall gets sicker. I thought about what I would look like, and what my insides would feel like,” he noted.
“Then the weather-it was cold out-and being covered in make-up also really feed into it. That’s what I was trying to work with the most. I think when you think about that, the physicality comes naturally, like the retching, sounds, panting and weakness. I think all of that flowed out of asking those questions,” the actor added.
With the story featuring a mysterious contagion that attacks the characters, Brown enjoyed the process of working with the cast to create their stunt work. “Noah and Liana are in the majority of (the movie), and they’re physically fit young people. I’m a little bit older than they are, so I tried exercising so that I could keep up with them,” he shared.
“It’s very physical to make a movie like this…That was something that I hadn’t really thought about going into making this horror film,” the director admitted. “I’ve made some horror shorts, but they were very different.
“But on this film, the actors were very game” to do most of the stunts, Brown continued. “But we utilized some stunt performers for some dangerous things that are in the movie. Manny Siverio was our stunt coordinator, and he was great. He’s one of the most experienced stunt people in New York City.
“One of the first things I ever worked on was ‘Girlfight.’ He was the stunt coordinator on that film, which features a lot of boxing. That was very much a collaboration with the stunt team,” the filmmaker noted.
“So I was very thankful that Manny was able to do our film. He’s so experienced and knowledgeable in what the camera’s seeing, as well as the relationship between the camera and the stuntwork, and how the actors can hide things” while they’re performing the stunts, Brown continued.
“The performances, especially from Noah and Liana, really sell that, particularly during the second half of the film. That was all them, and Manny really helped with their action. Without a stunt coordinator…it’s really hard to pinpoint what (the actors) are going to bring to the table. But Manny’s so experienced that we were in good hands with him,” the helmer added.
Another element of the production that Brown cherished was being able to shoot the drama being shot on location in North Truro, Massachusetts. But he admitted that “Once we started filming in Cape Cod, it was kind of tricky. Even bringing a production crew to where we ended up shooting” was a challenge.
“The weather wasn’t what we wanted, so we had to be flexible. If we had a sunny day, we had to be able to run out and take advantage of it, as we didn’t always have the luxury to shoot later,” the filmmaker continued. “We were chasing the sun, rain and wind, which was a factor that you don’t think about when you’re watching a film, but it was very much at the forefront of our decision-making when we were shooting.”
But Le Gros noted that those difficulties of filming ‘The Beach House’ on location “made it feel so much realer. It made it much easier to get into (the character’s mindset) when you’re actually in the place.
“We were up there before the summer season, when all of the tourists are there, so we were alone. I didn’t see a ton of people besides those we worked with during the entirety of the shoot. I would go for a run on the beach in the morning, and I wouldn’t see anyone. When I also went to the market during the week, I didn’t really see or interact with anyone,” the performer also shared.
There are scenes in which the characters “aren’t able to call for help, and that was true for us, too. I think that isolation really feed into the movie’s overall feeling,” Le Gros noted.
Brown also shared his gratitude that the movie had a successful run on the film festival circuit. “Not to keep saying how small the film is, but since it is, I never expected it to have a theatrical release,” he revealed. “So the festival run was a great surprise. Our premiere was in Strasbourg, which is a fantastic European film festival, and my wife and I were fortunate enough to go to it. It was a very welcoming environment, and they were very open to the film.
“In terms of watching it with an audience, it was a great experience, as it lets you know what works and what doesn’t works. There are scenes in ‘The Beach House’ that are crowd pleasers. When you’re with an audience, and (you see that) all of them are cringing, you think, Oh yes, this works, thank goodness,” the director shared.
“Our premiere in the U.S. was at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, which was a very welcoming environment. The audience was very open-minded, and it was great to be able to watch it with friends and family members. They had heard about it for years, so they finally had the chance to see what we had been working on for all this time,” Brown added.
After ‘The Beach House’ finished its festival circuit run, the filmmaker was thrilled that it was picked up to stream on Shudder. “I think (Shudder’s) a fantastic home for the film. I became aware of Shudder when ‘Mandy’ came out. I wanted to see it because I like the director (Panos Cosmatos’) first film, ‘Beyond the Black Rainbow;’ I like the music, and think the imagery is dynamite. So I wanted to see ‘Mandy,’ and when I did, I thought it was great. So that’s how I became familiar with Shudder,” he shared.
The streaming service has “some other great contemporary horror films. So it’s a great home (for ‘The Beach House’), and I’m honored to be included with some of the other films on there. So I hope the Shudder audience enjoys it,” Brown added.
La Gros also expressed his gratitude over the drama’s release, and that it’s now available on VOD, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray. “It’s cool. I’m happy for Jeff and the producers more than anything,” as it allows viewers to watch small, independent films safely at home.
However, “with the way the film industry is right now, a lot of what people are exposed to are huge big-budget action movies, or movies with big stars. But growing up, a lot of the smaller movies I loved, like ‘My Own Private Idaho,’ got me interested in filmmaking and acting,” the actor noted.
“Those independent films still hold true. I think the way film technology is now, what can be made for $1 million and $500 million is closer in a lot of ways. The CGI is different, but what they feel like is the same.” The actor concluded that with VOD and Digital releases, “people can see films that are really honest, and made by people who really believe in the project, at home, and that’s a great thing.”