The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
Home invasions are far from victimless crimes; however, the ones being burglarized might not always be the victims. Because no intruder truly knows what goes on behind closed doors, when they enter a home uninvited, they ironically invite the unknown and risk becoming prey themselves. In recent years, this idea has manifested itself in fascinating ways within the horror genre, and The Owners, the new vehicle for former Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, is only the latest film to do it and to do it right.
This is director Julius Berg’s feature film debut, but you’d probably never be able to tell by his brilliant camerawork. I thoroughly enjoyed his direction here. Partly because there’s a lot that he’s able to show us without telling us exactly what he’s trying to do. While there is some occasional spoon-feeding done to the audience, the film’s best moments come from when he’s able to let the audience digest what’s happening for themselves. There’s this one really great example of this - involving a phone - where Berg simultaneously reveals the elderly couple’s true intentions to Mary and the audience. The film is smart because of Berg, but that doesn’t mean it always makes sense.
Based off of the graphic novel Une Nuit de Pleine Lune by Hermann and Yves H, the film revolves around a trio of thieves who attempt to break into a safe in an elderly couple’s home while they’re away. Unable to open the safe on their own, the thieves decide to wait until the couple returns to force them to open it. Things become increasingly complicated though after the girlfriend of one of the thieves crashes the rendezvous, and as the elderly couple who own the house slowly reveal themselves to be more sinister than any of them expected.
Now, I don’t think I’ll be in the minority when I say this, but the film did feel a bit reminiscent of Fede Álvarez’s Don’t Breathe - sans the darkness. Nevertheless, it was still a pretty good story. Occasionally it would get predictable, but never was it dull. In fact, the entire sequence involving the thieves pressuring the elderly couple to open the safe is one of the most pulse-pounding moments I’ve seen in a film all year. The entire story is absolutely engaging throughout.
My only major problem with it is that when we first meet our main characters, it doesn’t feel like they know their targets. As the film goes on though, it’s made extremely clear that they all live in a really small town and that they’re all connected. There’s even this whole subplot about local missing girls - which does come into play later - that felt all too coincidental. The intended slow burn becomes dampened by some heavy convenience. I ultimately left the film wondering how much better it would be if no one was related.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Aside from being the star, Maisie Williams is easily the most recognizable person in this film, but she’s not the only good one. In fact, the entire cast is great; there wasn’t a single performance I thought was weak. What I really liked about the film though is that it uses our three thieves as a Trojan Horse. Mild spoiler alert: the story starts with them, but it doesn’t end with them.
Once we meet Maisie Williams’ Mary, we experience everything from her perspective in a smooth and swift transition. Her role as the film’s protagonist makes sense because over the course of the night everyone changes, and she’s the only person that can see things (and people) for what they are. Some changes are more subtle than others, but at the end of the day this is a film about facing monsters in whatever form they may take.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
'Reminiscent of Fede Álvarez’s Don’t Breathe
While not entirely necessary, there are a handful of practical effects employed throughout. None of them are bad, but none of them are especially memorable. There’s actually one very laughable moment involving dentures flying out of a character’s mouth.
In terms of set design, I liked the house the film is set in, but we never get to see more than three or four locations within it. Being a horror film, I feel like that was a missed opportunity. The elderly couple toys with their intruders, but they don’t do it nearly as much as I anticipated in the space they have.
The Owners (2020) | VOD
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Nowadays, most horror films fail to really capitalize on the effect that both music and sound design can have over an audience. The Owners is a glorious exception. While Paul Frazer and Vincent Welch’s score does a great job at setting the tone, the sound design amplifies it. As the night descends into chaos, all of the sound does too. Both the score and sound effects eventually merge to create an intoxicating sense of suspense. In the third act especially, there’s this moment where the house becomes a war zone for Mary. She literally has to trudge through smoke in darkness - okay, so there is some darkness here after all. Danger lurks at every corner, but as stressful as it is to watch, the audio is what fully envelops you because it makes it hard to turn away.
Who knew an elderly couple would be a match for the same girl who eliminated The Night King? Continuing to tread new ground post Game of Thrones, Maisie Williams proves that she’s as tough as she is talented in The Owners. While it may lack the scares most might expect from modern horror films, it more than makes up for it in suspense.