A beach getaway sounds like a dream, right? As the world turns and it feels like every part of our future is unknown, an escape to peaceful, comforting sands seems idyllic. Writer and director Jeffrey A. Brown dares to ask the question many ignore when it comes to vacation enjoyment in his Shudder exclusive eco-horror, The Beach House.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” is what Brown uses to drive his environmental body horror through cosmic terror that has become, ironically, a very relevant entry to the genre. From wanting to see what it’s never been shown before to full-scale exposure, Brown candidly shares his long journey that not only sticks the ending, but also the timing.
“You write about your fears to explore them in a healthy, safe environment. […] You don’t want to be in a place where the outside is toxic, where there’s an invisible enemy that’s deadly.”
Jessica Rose for Nightmare On Film Street: I truly really enjoyed The Beach House! I couldn’t wait to write about it for the review. I like a film that gives me something to chew on and I think a lot of people in our community feel the same. Everybody seems to have also really enjoyed it. How are you handling all the praise? There’s a lot of attention on it.
Jeffrey A. Brown: It’s pretty great. It’s been a very long process for me. From the initial kernel to release, it’s been almost nine years. We shot it in the spring of 2017 and our budget was very small. If you do the math it’s close to the original Night Of The Living Dead budget, adjusted for inflation, which I’m extremely proud of. When you operate at that size, money helps with speed; you can do things quickly and you can pay four or five people to do something, whereas in our film it would just be me doing it. We did have a lot of people working on it over the years, but it just takes a very long time. Our producers were very detail-oriented and I’m pretty detail-oriented to the point where we’re analyzing almost every shot and every line. We were analytical, our producers, our editor and myself, to get it to the point that worked.
The fact that this long after the process it’s come out and people are liking it, I’m really over the moon. I don’t even know what to say because there were many times in the process where I thought that no one was ever going to see this movie or we were never going to finish it and I didn’t know what was going to happen. Everyone’s stuck with it and Shudder loved it, which was definitely a huge boost around October when we found out it was going to happen. I was just thrilled because I knew Shudder before that, obviously, and then the fact that people are liking it is awesome. You go in making something hoping that people like it, but when they do you’re just relieved you’re not insane.
NOFS: I can’t imagine all that time and the timing of its release is pretty incredible. Some of the subject matter of The Beach House just blew my mind. I had to look up when you all actually made this because it’s pretty close to being a pandemic movie.
JB: I’ve come to the kind of generalization of an unhappy irony. Of course, I would not have wanted the pandemic to happen. The impetus behind it actually was about climate change and the uprooting of people and areas, the earth becoming uninhabitable. You write about your fears to explore them in a healthy, safe environment. I do that, to keep them as dark fantasies or dark nightmares. For you to see a nightmare come to life, it’s not good. I’ve been taking this pandemic very seriously because it’s something that you never want to see. I use it similarly to a slasher; you never want to be stuck in a house with a killer. That’s the worst possible scenario. You don’t want to be in a place where the outside is toxic, where there’s an invisible enemy that’s deadly. I don’t like seeing the alligator at my door.
NOFS: I think it will help make people appreciate it. It’s more scary and something that people are experiencing where we might not have experienced that before. It’s manifesting and we can identify more.
JB: Absolutely. The Beach House is somewhat open-ended. I think everything adds up. There’s been some notes I’ve seen where it says nothing is explained, when actually everything is there. I think everything is explained if you just watch the movie. The nature is that there is a conversation being had with the viewer. The movies that I love are conversations with you. You’re sitting at home alone in the dark and these images and sounds are coming at you in a way that triggers things in your brain. I hope that the movie is reflective. The way it’s paced is to give the viewer some time to reflect on it. I hope afterwards the viewer is reflecting on not just the movie, but on themselves. I’ve noticed with myself and my wife, we have a real routine and the days are literally blurring together where I don’t know what day it is. In that type of scenario, where the constraints of the day are removed, I hope it leads to a time of reflection. There seems to be a disdain towards self-analysis or reflection and I hope that this time gives people a chance to look at some issues we have and hopefully come out on the other side with a better scope or a grasp of what’s going on so that they can act without fear which is kind of a running theme through The Beach House.
“When you want to make a 20 million dollar movie and only have a million dollars, you’re going to remove some of your fingers whether they come off with surgical precision or you rip them off with a band saw.”
NOFS: It’s very relevant. For every negative comment about the ending, just keep in mind that I loved it. I thought, “That’s how you stick an ending”, especially in the horror genre.
JB: Thank you! I don’t like the negative reviews. Some of them are poetic and some are just like “Whoa!” but I’m so glad the ending did it for you. Everything in film is like a mixture of accident and intention. What we came to really was a very intentional thing. It wasn’t like we had this random footage and put it together hoping somebody gets it. Initially, I had different ideas for the end of the movie that were a bit beyond our scope. Again, I just can’t emphasize enough how necessity is the mother of invention. I saw what we could do, what our actors could do. Liana Liberato and I had to talk about it because she wanted to know how to deliver the last bit. I told her to just say it over and over again, like it’s a meditation or a prayer or something like that and to pull herself out of it. She’s a killer. Anything you throw in front of her, she delivers. It’s just great. I’m so glad that people are responding to it.
NOFS: It was so thrilling and it got me. That last part really creeped me out. It gave me chills. That doesn’t happen, especially the ending of horror movies where they usually kind of fall apart. Liana was really great. I didn’t even realize that it was low budget.
JB: Oh good! I’ve worked on hundred thousand dollar movies. I’ve worked on really big ones, but the thing about smaller movies that really kills me is that they would be like a square peg in a round hole. When you want to make a 20 million dollar movie and only have a million dollars, you’re going to remove some of your fingers whether they come off with surgical precision or you rip them off with a band saw. That’s how it’s going to go. We can’t shoot at a location that’s going to cost four times the entire budget. That’s not going to happen. As a writer and director on a low budget project, you have to be able to adjust to it. From the get-go I wanted the film to be what it was, I didn’t want it to be something else. It’s very much an intimate, small movie with natural lighting, which I love. I love that in other films and our director of photography, Owen Levelle, was on board from the start. It’s like dating where you meet all the crew and the cast and you take them out and spend three weeks in close quarters. Our assistant director kept saying “filmmaking is a very emotional thing”. You get wound up in the moment and it’s intense and exciting and exhilarating and you just want to find people that you want to go on that journey with. We were really fortunate with a lot of the collaborators we amassed over time, they’re a lot of great people.
NOFS: Speaking of which, I heard somewhere that the idea for The Beach House came from your experience with a failed relationship during vacation. Is that right?
JB: I keep going back to irony, it’s like the irony of going on vacation and getting sick. Cape Cod, one of my relationships didn’t end there, but it was definitely the point where it’s like, “If we can’t have a good time here, then what are we doing?”. We’re surrounded by all this beauty and great food and we’re supposed to have a good time that we’re not having. Another thing that happened to me, I think beyond just my failed relationship because I’m now happily married and that happened years and years ago, but I went in on a beach house when I was much younger. The only opportunity I had to go to the house was one weekend when it rained every day. It’s one of those things where you want it to be perfect and then perfection is just a myth. It’s like a projection or a false reality. The projection of the situation is that I want to be on the beach, but in reality I’m going to be stuck inside watching movies and reading books instead. Then, of course, with horror it’s like, “Well what’s the worst that could happen?”. I just made a list of those and tried to include them in the narrative.
NOFS: When you made that list, where did you draw inspiration from? What made you want to go the sci-fi direction over something else?
JB: Someone described it as a road trip where H.P. Lovecraft is driving, Shirley Jackson is in the passenger seat and Stephen King and J.G. Ballard are both in the backseat. If you look at those four elements, you’ll see them all in the movie. I wanted to express things in film that I hadn’t seen before. King and Ballard are having this reexamination of their work right now. High-Rise came out years ago and the same with Color Out Of Space, those are like the big ones. In a way, horror is relatively young. Of course, The Bible is a horror story, Dante’s Inferno is a horror story. It’s anything where there’s punishment and sin. There is just so much. I look at writing and making a movie as like making a stew. I want a lot of spices that all fit. I love David Cronenberg and John Carpenter and George Romero and Steven Spielberg, they’re all in there. Then there’s a lot of other things that people haven’t picked up on. I’m not going to say what so that they can find them themselves. We also looked at art. There’s some framing that rips off a classical painting or two. You’ve got to look for it and know what you’re looking for, but it’s there.
“Someone described [The Beach House] as a road trip where H.P. Lovecraft is driving, Shirley Jackson is in the passenger seat and Stephen King and J.G. Ballard are both in the backseat.”
NOFS: I loved your framing. Jake Weber walking into the water was visually agonizing.
JB: I’m so glad! As a viewer I like that stuff too because I feel like that’s another conversation that you can be having with the audience. Quentin Tarantino is huge, there’s tons and tons of references in his movies. At my age, Tarantino was huge, he was the coolest guy on the planet and still might be. From Reservoir Dogs to Pulp Fiction, he dominated American film. For me as a viewer, I don’t want the references to be an end in themselves. The theme of the movie is not to go watch more horror movies, there’s another theme. I love Cronenberg and the themes of his movies. I like drawing the parallels between Fast Company and Crash. Looking at those movies, there is a kinship between the two of them. I’m sure he wasn’t intending that, but I love that sort of thing.
In addition to that was music. There’s some ambient music that I really like and I wondered what would be the visual equivalent to those tracks. I think early The Cure albums are really good breakup albums. The album ‘Nowhere’ by Ride is a big one, including the album cover. There’s a lyric in it where they talk about making their own time. It’s one of those stoned teenager kinds of things like “What is time really?”. We’re seeing the arbitrariness of dates and days of the week. We’re seeing how time is really a construct.
NOFS: We are. There’s s so much to chew on. That’s what makes The Beach House really enjoyable. It’s what makes a good film.
JB: I’m so glad you’re saying that. I felt like it was my first time out and there’s no guarantee that I’m ever gonna make another movie again. I wanted to just throw everything, in terms of the movies I love and the music I love, into the stew and hopefully have it all add up to something with a modern sensibility. There’s the subgenre of cosmic horror and Lovecraftian horror. They’re not totally the same thing, but they’re definitely akin. I read a lot of the writers who influenced Lovecraft, like William Hope Hodgson who wrote The House On The Borderlands. There’s similar things that he was writing about in the 20’s, like scientific experiments, and people were still relatively adjusting to it.
Frankenstein was written in 1818 and Mary Shelley is asking “What is science? What are we doing? What are we experimenting on? Are there limits to it?”. Who knows what this technology or what science can do. So I looked at what I wanted cosmic horror to be and that was how I approached the movie and what I wanted to say. It’s also a movie I’m not seeing and that’s the other bottom line. Filmmakers who are film fans make them because they want to see something they’re not seeing. The Beach House was the movie I’m not seeing.
“Filmmakers who are film fans make them because they want to see something they’re not seeing. The Beach House was the movie I’m not seeing.“
Jeffrey A. Brown’s debut feature film The Beach House is currently streaming on Shudder. Have you seen The Beach House? What do you think about Jeffrey A. Brown’s eco-horror? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!