Old (2021)

I’m not quite sure of what I think about this one.

Now I need to note two things straight out:  one, I’ve read Sandcastle, the original graphic novel by Fredrik Peeters and Pierre-Oscar Lévy this movie is based on and didn’t much care for it, for many of the same reasons I’m not a big fan of The Twilight Zone — it offers a strange fantasy situation which leaves its victims doomed, without giving the situation any real meaning beyond the family drama at its center.

Two, I’ve generally liked most of M. Night Shyamalan’s films (yes, even Lady in the Water) and consider both Signs and Unbreakable as classics or near classics.

So I am perhaps predisposed to both like and dislike this one.

Which, yes, does seem to sum up my reaction.

As in Sandcastle, we have a group of people stranded on a beach where they are rapidly getting older.

Mind you, the graphic novel doesn’t give you much to work with as it is relatively short.  It would perhaps be enough for a Twilight Zone episode, but Shyamalan had to add a lot to turn it into a feature film.  Not only do we get an explanation of sorts — some sort of strange mineral and, of course, that old science fictional standby, radiation — but there’s a bit more attention to the details of their plight and why they can’t seem to escape.

However, the major change is that the beach was a deliberate trap.  The mysterious people running the resort deliberately sent them there and are watching what is happening from the top of the surrounding cliffs.

For most of the film, this is just a background detail, and it only gets explained at the very end with a sudden info dump, which takes us deep into science fiction territory and ties uncomfortably into certain current fears.  Some of you would just see it as a typical M. Night Shyamalan twist ending.  However, I’ve always thought of the twist endings of his early films as more of a puzzle box, where the film was about a certain important truth but it is only gradually revealed to us.  Unfortunately this major subplot feels like exactly like what it is — a late addition duct taped onto the rest of the story — and doesn’t mesh too well with the family drama which is the real heart of the film.

There’s also a happy-ish ending which also feels rather tacked on, even if it does tie into one of the notions that was discussed earlier.

But the strangest part of all this is the rather odd quality of the cinematography, at least on my new big screen TV.  It looks like a Soap Opera, or perhaps one of those old BBC dramas where you can see the abrupt change between the indoor scenes shot on video and those shot outdoors on film.  I’m not entirely sure whether this affects the entire film or just the opening scenes — our eyes get used to these things so fast — but it just looks wrong.

And very cheap.

As I said, I’m still not sure what I think of this one.  The cast performs splendidly, the settings are quite beautiful, the drama plays out well, and the transitions from child to adult are deftly handled (even if the aging of the adult cast is a bit spotty and often unconvincing).

But somehow it never quite works as well as it should.

Oh, well.  I guess it was inevitable.

After all, The Twilight Zone just didn’t work when they started making longer episodes…

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