The Beach House

A college-age couple drives to a family beach house for a romantic getaway. Shortly after their arrival, they discover an older couple are already guests at the house. The two couples decide to spend an evening together, but the weekend soon turns into a nightmare of catastrophic proportions as the world around them crumbles.

The Beach House is an incredibly strong feature-film debut for writer and director Jeffrey A. Brown. The film begins when the young couple, Emily and Randall, go to Randall’s family beach house. Brown takes his time with the plot, establishing these two characters and their relationship before introducing the older couple already staying in the house, Mitch and Jane. From there the plot takes on a slow burn approach to build the sense of tension and dread. It begins with awkward moments between the two couples over dinner, then escalates as the situation reaches an apocalyptic level. Brown also excels at leaving breadcrumbs throughout the beginning of the film to hint at what’s to come. The first half of the film does move at a slower pace, which may alienate some audience members, but it is vital to the way Brown builds the plot. It’s a very effective method of storytelling because it not only generates a feeling of unease right from the beginning, but it also allows Brown to essentially switch horror subgenres halfway through the film from a taut thriller to full-blown body horror. The film has an edge-of-your seat story that delivers surprise after surprise.

The cast of The Beach House, for the most part, is top notch. Liana Liberato (If I Stay, Light as a Feather) stars as Emily. At first, Emily comes across as a very soft and reserved young woman. Yet Liberato quickly asserts that Emily is also highly intelligent and capable of great things. Noah Le Gros (Depraved, A Score to Settle) plays Emily’s boyfriend, Randall. As first, Le Gros’s performance feels a bit stiff. Yet, as he gets his stride, he really becomes Randall and delivers a strong portrayal, especially in the second half of the film. Jake Weber (Dawn of the Dead, Meet Joe Black) plays Mitch, half of the couple who is already staying at the beach house. Weber is very skilled at presenting a calm persona, even in the face of terrifying circumstances. This is true even in his portrayal of Mitch, although his sense of calm actually adds to the fear and tension in this film. Maryann Nagel makes her debut as Mitch’s wife, Jane. Nagel is fantastic in this role starting out as a sweet, sickly woman and then transforming into something much more frightening. Each actor helps to bring this story to life and they have great on-screen chemistry, but it is Liberato who audiences will likely remember most from this film.

On top of having a fascinating plot and great performances, The Beach House is simply stunning to look at. Despite the many houses around the one Emily and Randall visit, there are virtually no other human beings around. This and the slightly monochromatic color palette helps to give the film a sense of emptiness. Then, during the first night, the filmmakers bring vibrant colors and lights that almost make it feel as though you’ve been transported to another planet. The colors and sets are enhanced by gorgeous cinematography, which also often heightens the suspense of the film. Then there is the horror-fan’s bread and butter, practical effects. There is some marvelous goo, fabricated monstrosities, and terrifying creature design. It is all incredibly well done and adds to the disturbing climax of the film.

The Beach House seamlessly transitions between horror subgenres and creates a gruesome story that feels hauntingly real. Brown takes a concept rooted in reality and throws it into a horror context making the audience ask the question, “What if?” The opening of the film might be a bit slow and off-putting for some horror fans, but the payoff at the end is well worth it. The strong performances from the entire cast, especially Liberato, ground the film by making us care about the fate of each character. Not only will viewers get a compelling tale with interesting characters, but they also get a visually stunning film that brings shock and awe.




After losing her best friend, Aubrey secludes herself in her friend’s apartment. She awakes the next day to discover the world as she knows it is coming to an end. People have disappeared and there are strange creatures lurking outside the door. Aubrey finds a mix tape made by her deceased friend with clues as to how to survive this strange new world, and perhaps even save it.

A.T. White brings a powerful story to the screen in his first feature-length film, Starfish. The focus of the plot is grief. Aubrey loses her friend and from that moment her life is changed forever. The film includes elements of a dramatic character study, a Lovecraftian apocalypse, and fantastic music. Each aspect is integral to the film. White takes the audience on a journey through Aubrey’s grief, going through each of the traditional five stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are emphasized by the end of the world happening all around Aubrey and the strange beings that have crossed into our world. Her complete isolation from the rest of the world allows the audience to focus on Aubrey as she goes on her emotional and sometimes dangerous journey in which reality bends, breaks, and unravels.

Music plays a vital role in her journey as well in the form of tapes hidden by her deceased friend. Each tape contains a song with an embedded signal that has something to do with what is happening to the world. This gives Aubrey a goal to work towards and a mystery to solve. It propels forward, forcing her to face her grief and things she has done that she feels guilty about. The tapes could even save Aubrey’s life. All of these elements combine in perfect symphony.

The plot alone is haunting, beautiful, and fascinating, but what makes it even more compelling is White’s inspiration for it. White has said that he lost a friend to cancer and experienced grief like what we see Aubrey go through. The film allowed him to visually work through that grief. What’s even more amazing is that White intends to donate all the money he makes from Starfish to Cancer Research. It shows the passion he has for both his film and the cause. That passion can also easily be seen in every last detail in the film’s plot, character, and music.

In a film that focuses entirely on one character, casting is vital. Virginia Gardner (Halloween, Runaways) stars as Aubrey. The pain, loss, and guilt Aubrey experiences is the catalyst for the entire film. Gardner truly dazzles in the role. She is able to grab the attention and the hearts of the audience and hold on tight. The way Gardner portrays Aubrey as she mourns is complicated, relatable, and incredibly raw. This performance alone makes me excited to see what Gardner does in the future.

The many artistic elements of Starfish also bring a lot to the film. The filmmakers used CGI to create the Lovecraftian creatures from another world, as well as the rips in our reality they traveled through. These effects are relatively subtle. The CGI works especially well with the various sets. The film takes place in a landscape that looks very remote and snowy, which offers a beautiful contrast with the effects. There is also a distinct lack of modern technology throughout the film. This allows for the film to exist in a space without a specific time and could have been made in the 80’s as easily as today. Of course, the music is probably the most important artistic element because of how engrained it is in the plot. The score was composed by none other than White himself and he selected the music for the soundtrack as well. Both the score and soundtrack are a focal point of the film and I found myself trying to find the soundtrack online as soon as I finished the film.

Starfish is a stunning and raw journey through the grieving process as the world ends. White beautifully uses his own experience to take the audience through the stages of grief. He also incorporates music and the collision of different worlds to convey the end of Aubrey’s world. It seems to be left up to the audience whether this is a literal or metaphorical apocalypse, but the story is haunting either way. The weight of the film is carried on Gardner’s capable shoulders as she portrays Aubrey as a complicated heroine.  Add the various visual and musical elements, and you have a must-watch film. If that isn’t enough to convince you to see Starfish, see it so you can support a great cause and have your sale go toward Cancer Research.



Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

It is a classic 19th century love story. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) lives in the English countryside with her parents and sisters. Coming from a family that is not as wealthy, there is constant pressure for the girls to be married off to rich men. When Elizabeth meets the wealthy Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) there is an instant attraction. Unfortunately, Mr. Darcy has a very cold and austere personality, and Elizabeth is a very proud woman. As if that isn’t enough to make these two ignore the sparks between them, there is a zombie plague ravishing England. The two must join forces to fight off the hordes of undead, while also navigating the trials of English high society.

To preface this review, I have seen many film/TV adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. I know the story well, and I love it. If you are not a fan of Jane Austen books or films, or if you have never seen them, this film might not be as enjoyable to you as it was to me. This film did an excellent job of blending the story that many fans already know and love with the added plot interest of a zombie plague.

All of the memorable themes and dialogue are present. Of course, with the presence of zombies, there were some bits added to the plot in order for everything to make sense. I loved that the zombies in the film were a bit unique compared to the traditional zombies audiences are used to. These zombies can keep all of their memories and intelligence. It isn’t until they feed on human brains that they become the mindless hungry masses you typically see in zombie films. The filmmakers even managed to add a great mystery to the plot, which I loved. It made it so they weren’t just throwing in zombies to an already existing story without them having any importance to the plot. Luckily, these additions managed to turn this love story into an exciting, and often extremely funny, gore fest from start to finish.

This film had a superb collection of actors. Lily James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey) was perfect as Elizabeth Bennet. Even while kicking some major zombie ass, she managed to exemplify grace and elegance. Sam Riley (Maleficent, Byzantium) made a great Mr. Darcy. I still can’t believe he managed to seem like the most socially awkward man in England, and yet his zombie-killing skills made him extremely attractive. While these two leads were both great in their roles, there is one performance that completely stole the show for me. Those who know the story of Pride and Prejudice will remember Parson Collins. He is the cousin of the Bennet girls, and probably the most bizarre little character that Jane Austen ever created. Pastor Collins was played by the talented Matt Smith (Doctor Who, Lost River). You can tell he had so much fun with this role. He was quirky, and awkward, and rude, and oblivious to his own flaws in a way that had me laughing every time Smith was on the screen.

One of the most important things about a zombie film is the special effects makeup. This film definitely delivered on that. Much of the zombie makeup was done with practical effects. What takes the makeup a step further is how the filmmakers seamlessly layered CGI effects on top of that makeup to give the zombie looks the extra oomph that they needed. There is really only one qualm I had while watching the delightful zombie gore; there was a very noticeable lack of blood. I get that zombie blood would likely be sludgy and coagulated, as they are dead. It still bothered me a great deal during the very first fight sequence when the Bennet girls are fighting off the zombies, yet the blades of their swords remained entirely clean. They might not have the bright red blood you would see if they had stabbed a living person, but there should have least have been some kind of black/brown zombie gore on the blades. It’s such a small detail but it made the fight scenes seem much less realistic (yes I know it’s a zombie film, but it can still be realistic).

In all honesty, I probably enjoyed this film because I am already a Jane Austen fan (all thanks to my mother). I also loved it because I am a fan of zombie films. That isn’t to say that people who don’t know Jane Austen’s classic tales won’t still have a lot of fun in this film. The healthy amounts of action, mystery, and humor that were infused into the story created a really fun film that could appeal to a variety of viewers. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can be added to the list of the more witty, intelligent zombie films.