By RUBEN DIAZ
Starring Todd Grinnell, Mena Suvari and Kristin Bauer van Straten
Directed by Martin Guigui
Written by Sherry Klein
Director Martin Guigui (The Unhealer) and writer Sherry Klein (Star Trek: Voyager) unleash the thriller PARADISE COVE about a contractor who attempts to repair his late mother’s home but discovers a homeless woman’s been living there, and she’s not ready to leave.
Knox Bannett (Grinnell) and his wife Tracey are driving to Malibu from Detroit. Knox’s mother has passed away, and he’s heading to her house on the beach. Knox is a contractor, and the plan is to live a few months at the house while upgrading and preparing the home for sale. A few nights into staying at the new place reveals Bree (Bauer van Straten), a homeless woman living within the wooden beams that make up the house’s foundation. Knox tries to help Bree find a new home, but she likes living on the beach (who wouldn’t?) and will stop at nothing to keep what she thinks is hers.
Bauer van Straten played the deliciously sassy vampire, Pam on HBO’s True Blood, and in PARADISE COVE, she gets to turn up the scene-chewing machine to 11. Bree is tormented and unflinching in the face of anyone who dares to dictate what she should do. Bauer van Straten devolves into a Joker-esque lunatic talking to herself, justifying her actions with flimsy logic, and able to manipulate the people around her with ease. She also puts together a crew! As a “resident” of the home for a long time, Bree also knows every nook and cranny, making her more of a threat. Bree is a fantastic villain, unapologetic and ruthless.
PARADISE COVE is competently shot, but there’s an apparent afterthought to set any mood. Tonally, everything is even for most of the runtime. Romantic or light-hearted moments between Knox and Tracey look and feel much like tense moments between the couple and Bree. The musical shifts are too subtle even to notice, and there’s not much of an escalation in terms of the visual and audio storytelling. Bree indeed does some dastardly things, but there’s a flatness to how they’re presented that diminishes the impact. Also, there’s a lot of digital backgrounds that seem slightly off from time to time too which might explain the way everything is lit.
There’s some exciting stuff that goes nowhere. Perhaps inspired by the psycho-sexual thrillers of the late ’80s and early ’90s, PARADISE COVE dips its toes into themes of adultery and motherhood but balks at the chance to do anything remotely more profound. Tracey wants to have a child, which is set up throughout the film, but when a twist occurs, it doesn’t hold much weight. It’s telegraphed and feels no different than a scene earlier with Knox’s construction guy, who for some reason is always smoking a joint that’s sometimes not even lit, complaining about getting paid. So much material is left unexplored, and it’s a shame because some of the stuff is compelling and shocking. It gives the sense that PARADISE COVE is always about to shift into a higher gear, but then it just doesn’t. Instead, it settles back into a comfortable pace that might feel at home on the Lifetime channel.
PARADISE COVE is entertaining enough if you’ve got nothing else to watch. Bauer van Straten is almost worth the admission price as she delivers some juicy bits along the way. Ardent horror fans won’t find much to like. It’s not gory, it doesn’t crawl under your skin, and it doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat. There’s a moment towards the end where things almost get intense, but it ends relatively quickly in a race to get to the final battle between Knox and Bree. Storytelling is virtually all about setups and payoffs, and PARADISE COVE doesn’t deliver enough of them throughout its runtime to be anything more than average at best.
PARADISE COVE hits digital platforms on February 12th from Quiver.