Thursday, June 21, 2018

Beach House: Hipster Artists Make Bad House Guests

She is an entitled brat who is not nearly as worldly as she thinks she is. He is an over-sexed, violence-obsessed man-child with a history of exploitative relationships. By all means, lets get these two together, because what could possibly go wrong? As we would expect, the outrĂ© art photographer will have a disruptive effect on the household when he crashes for a few days in Jason Saltiel’s Beach House (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Emma wants to take yet another semester off to find her creative writing voice in Berlin. Her long-time stepfather Henry takes her side against her mother Catherine, because his strategy has always been to placate her. He has the money to do it. After years of scuffling, Paul, her mother’s surprise houseguest is also in the money. For some reason, the art world suddenly decided his sexually provocative photo shoots are a good buy. His latest published series is inspired by The Death of Marat, but his most recent work are about two dozen Polaroids supposedly riffing on Giallo horror movies—as in a pretty girl getting strangled by a sinister pair of patent leather gloves.

Emma is fascinated and perhaps excited by the suspiciously realistic-looking photos, but she starts to become rather alarmed when she is unable to reach the model getting throttled (to confirm she is indeed still alive). Yet, she is increasingly perversely attracted to Paul, probably because it would really tick off her mother.

Beach House is a weirdly listless thriller, but that almost works because of it—almost. Emma and Paul are like the Gate-Keeper and the Key-Master. No sane person would ever put them together. However, we can nearly buy into the notion Catherine and Henry are too groggy from sunstroke to think clearly. Still, at some point, they have to snap out of it.

Willa Fitzgerald is effectively Lolita-esque as Emma, while Murray Bartlett conveys a dark, edgy magnetism as Paul. Orlagh Cassidy is also quite appealingly forceful and comparatively down-to-earth as Catherine. Thomas M. Hammond always seems to apologize for his very presence as Henry. (As an aside, the heavy beard he and Paul both sport are weird distractions. Surely, they could find a few razors in this tony beach front burg.)

Frankly, the basic premise is a little iffy and the energy level is what you might call “subdued,” but the beach house itself is a lovely piece of real estate. It has all the trappings for a Death Trap-style thriller, but the execution is far too slack. Not recommended, despite our respect for producer Ben Barenholtz (who just directed his first narrative feature, Alina, last year), Beach House opens this Friday (6/22) in New York, at the Cinema Village.