The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
The fall season is upon us. For those who track film releases, we know this time of year is packed with horror releases. As a devotee of scary movies and the Halloween spirit, I was eager to jump on my first offering in the 2020 season. That being said, I tend to keep my expectations low. Horror films aren’t typically known for brilliant storytelling or technical resplendence. I just want these scary flicks to entertain me with chills and scares; unfortunately, Death of Me had neither.
The mode of story-telling here is wobbly. The themes of Death of Me are mystery, suspense and dread. Sadly, it is woven together in a very messy way. Full disclosure: I’m going to reference Midsommar a bit in this review, as it’s the closest contemporary peer that Death of Me has. Where Midsommar’s director Ari Aster ties together similar elements in his sophomore effort smartly, director Darren Lynn Bousman assembles his story like a child tying his shoelaces. I mean, the opening title card doesn’t appear until 17 minutes in. Where is the urgency? The sequences meant to lure me in were confusing and the ones meant to scare me were boring.
A couple vacationing on an island off the coast of Thailand wake up without recollection of what happened the night before. They’re covered in dirt, blood and confusion. After failing to depart the island on time due to their passports vanishing, they work backwards to recall the events of the night before.
Meanwhile, a horrible storm is brewing off the coast, spelling impending doom. The couple is played by Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth. Their vacation to the island doubled as a work expedition for Hemsworth’s character, Neil, who is a travel and tourism documentarian.
“This island has not had a storm hit it in 200 years.”
This is important information (presumably) and it is repeated throughout the film. Due to Neil’s constant vlogging on their trip, the couple find footage of their dinner from the previous night. The video shows Christine, Maggie Q’s character, being given an ostensibly ominous necklace from the little-too-nice waitress. As the footage continues, the couple is shown imbibing a mystery drink. They begin to black out, eventually waking up outside. The vlog ends with showing Neil choking Christine to death and burying her in the ground after they violently have sex. From this point, the couple turn on detective mode to uncover the meaning and purpose to their predicament. As more characters and puzzle pieces are introduced, the stakes grow. And that storm is still on its way. I would love to say they find the answers to all of their questions. The truth is they don’t, neither does the audience.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
I feel an artist can make wonders no matter what tools are at their disposal. But at some point, the instruments available are important variables. The tools within the script, which has no less than three writers, are off-beat punctuated dialogue and shoddy character development. Some of the screenplay material is effective and relatively proper in its context. But the majority of the exposition is either too cryptic or too flat. The acting on display by Hemsworth and Q is serviceable, but not compelling. Side characters step in and out of frame. Some of these characters needed more time on screen to better support, while many should’ve been cut completely.
'Death of Me' Needs Every Crutch It Can Lean On
Death of Me (2020) | VOD
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
There are some beautiful locations and set pieces used as the backdrop here. The Pacific island landscape serves as both a beautiful retreat and as the last place you would want to be disconnected from everything you know à la the setting in Midsommar. The intimate visuals don’t share this level of immediacy however. There is some dodgy CGI at work here. Make-up appliances of blood and gore and used haphazardly. I was taken more out of the story by the application of these efforts.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
I cannot report much on the sound quality. It doesn’t detract but it certainly doesn’t add either. There are some mumbling island vibe compositions here and there to be fair. But, in a film that has so much it strives for with suspense and fright, the key components of sharp sound design and sinister music don’t make any sort of appearance. For a story like this, it needs every crutch it can lean on. Death of Me doesn’t stand tall without these precious ingredients.
I know I referenced Midsommar earlier in this review, with a promise to mention it further. I think it is appropriate to call back to it once more now. In many ways, that film and Death of Me are the same film: A woman is in a land not her own, with a companion that doesn’t fully trust or respect her, and she becomes chosen to be the successor for the new tribe she has integrated with, at great violent consequence. Death of Me has dual meanings for the character of Christine. She is “reborn” and she gets a new life in a way. But what this film didn’t provide that Midsommar did was the fire in her character’s soul to encourage and justify her resurrection. I didn’t feel the need to champion Christine because I really didn’t care ultimately. The lingering storm that is held over the characters in this story is fitting to how I drifted through this film. Just let the storm hit already and get it over with.