M. Night Shyamalan after three decades in film (as he pointed out in one of those pre-screening, “Welcome back to the movies after COVID,” bits) still gets me into the theater. Even if his ideas don’t always land, as has happened with 2008’s The Happening, I still appreciate a filmmaker willing to try new things and write original screenplays. That should always be celebrated.
(Correction I learned after posting this: This screenplay is actually based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, so it’s not an original screenplay.)
The premise of his latest film is that a group of people, including a family central to the story, go to a resort, which then leads them to a private beach from which they can’t escape. And all the while, they are rapidly aging.
It’s actually a pretty creepy film. Imagine your six-year-old son and 11-year-daughter are suddenly five years older. That rapid aging was freaking me out and unsettling me.
Adding to the peculiarity of their predicament, the people on the beach realize that each one of them has some sort of malady going on. For instance, Prisca (played by Vicky Krieps) has a tumor, although it’s supposed to be benign. Patricia (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) has epilepsy. And Charles (played by Rufus Sewell) has schizophrenia.
The first creepy scene is when Trent (played by Nolan River as a six-year-old and Luca Rodriguez as an 11-year-old), the son of Guy (played by Gael Bernal) and Prisca, is standing near the rocks in the water when a dead body floats to him. Eek.
From that point on, everyone starts dropping like flies, which is a funnier pun than I initially realized since houseflies only live 24 hours and at the rate of aging on the island, the parents will only make it 24 hours. Boom!
- First, Charles’ mother dies because she was already old as is and it didn’t take long for her to age into death.
- Then their dog dies. Dog years, man.
- The man who was with the initial dead woman, Mid-Sized Sedan (played by Aaron Pierre), a rapper, is then killed by Charles in a schizophrenic rage of sorts. Mid-Sized Sedan had a blood clotting disorder, for the record.
- Trent and Kara (Charles’ daughter) have sex and Kara gets pregnant and within 20 minutes, has the baby and the baby instantly dies because it’s not acclimated to the rapid aging process. That was rough to see.
- Jarin (played by Ken Leung), Patricia’s husband, then stupidly thinks, “Hey, if we can’t walk back through the rocks because they won’t let us leave and we black out, what if I try to swim around them?” Unfortunately, he blacks out and dies presumably drowning.
- Kara dies trying to climb the rocks.
- Patricia dies of a seizure before attempting to also swim.
- And Kara’s mother, Chrystal (played by Abbey Lee), who has a calcium deficiency, dies in a gruesome way where her bones get all contorted, rapidly aged and then stuck in the position, until she dies.
It comes down to the original family, Guy, Prisca, Trent and the daughter, Maddox (played by Alexa Swinton as the 11-year-old version and Thomasin McKenzie as the 16-year-old version).
Drama is interwoven with the main family. Primarily, that Prisca had the tumor and didn’t tell the children about it, and that she was also cheating on Guy and was going to separate from him. Rapidly aging though, Guy and Prisca renew their love to each other and essentially die of old age, as their bodies deteriorate.
Adult Trent (played by Emun Elliot) and adult Maddox (played by Embeth Davidtz) realize that Trent’s little friend, who is the son of the resort owner who sent them to the retched aging island, gave him a code to crack. Trent cracks it and it tells him that his father doesn’t like the coral. That leads them to believe that they can swim through the coral and the coral will protect them. They do, presumably!
While we await their fate, we learn that Shyamalan in his usual cameo as the bus driver, was observing the tourists the entire time as part of an experiment.
It then turns out that there’s an entire operation behind this, wherein they are using these people with maladies as test subjects to cure a variety of diseases and illnesses. For example, they gave Patricia some sort of medicine for her epilepsy and she didn’t have an episode for 16 years, as reflected by the rapid aging on the island.
One employee tells the resort owner that Charles killing Mid-Sized Sedan is why they should separate those mentally ill from those with physical illnesses.
In other words, we have the perfect villains: Those who think they are operating in the greater good. That yeah, it’s unfortunate we have to go through numerous test subjects (the current ones are something like the 73rd “clinical trial”), but it’s for the greater good.
They claim to have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, with the upside of millions more.
Unfortunately for them, Trent and Maddox do survive their passage through the coral and spill the beans. Earlier at the resort, Trent, who is apparently great with remembering names, was asking everyone their names and occupations. One man tells him he’s a cop. Trent, now a 50-year-old man, goes to the cop and shows him a book a prior “test subject” kept of names and addressed of all those who died. The cop checks them, realizes they’ve been reported missing and knows something is amiss.
The whole operation is shut down by the police.
Overall, I thought this was a fun and creepy Shyamalan film with a heck of a hook as a premise. And the metaphor is obvious enough, but still thought-provoking: What would we do differently or say differently if our window of time was compressed? And how sad is it, Maddox remarks, that adults lose their kid-like wonder Sure, she was just an 11-year-old the previous day and is now nearly 50, but she makes a good point! I, as I sit here writing this in my Toy Story t-shirt, never try to lose my sense of kid-like wonder for the world.
Anyhow, if you’re a Shyamalan person, you’re already going to the theater. If you haven’t seen a Shyamalan movie since 2002’s Signs, perhaps give this a whirl.