I've been somewhat of an M. Night Shyamalan detractor in the past. This I'm willing to own up to. While I enjoyed his latest, Knock at the Cabin, he has made some truly puzzling pieces. Unfortunately I thought Split was an overhyped film with a messy story including a "twist" that was lackluster at best, even with a phenomenal James McAvoy. Glass was probably worse.
And don't even get me started on his tragic run of The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. All three of these belong in the pantheon of horrid films.
But, there's a lot I love about Shyamalan's films as well! I'm not all negative. I found his 2015 handheld film horror The Visit to be one of the most original of his since The Village, and probably the scariest film he's made since that one scene in Signs that haunts me to this day. You know what I mean, when that alien struts by on the kid's birthday party. Terrifying every time.
Of course I also love his insane run of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village, all of which I consider excellent films.
Outside of The Visit, Shyamalan's last truly great film in my opinion was the last of this aforementioned run, The Village, which came out in 2004. I think my general wariness of Shyamalan films that have come out recently is warranted given this long gap of quality. But lucky for me, I finally caught up with his 2021 film, Old, which I loved.
Old follows a family of four led by the distant parents, Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps), and their six year old son Trent (Nolan River) and their eleven year old daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton). Looking for some rest and relaxation before they announce their divorce to the kids, Guy and Prisca take the family on a nice vacation to a tropical resort. There, the resort staff suggests taking the family on an excursion to a hidden beach where they sort of befriend a surgeon named Charles (Rufus Sewell) and his wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and their daughter Kara (Kylie Begley) along with Charles' mother Agnes (Katlheen Chalfant). A couple of other parties are there as well, but everything is thrown into chaos when the group discovers the dead body of a woman that arrived with a musician called Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre). Slowly, but surely, everyone on the beach begins to age at an accelerated rate, with Maddox, Trent, and Kara bearing the brunt of the sudden metamorphosis.
The best aspect of a plot like this encased in a Shyamalan film, is the slow and steady pace of he employs with it. A poignant parallel to the speeding aging of the characters, along with their anxiety; Shyamalan excels in not giving anything away and keeping you on the edge of your seat, curious as to what could be causing all of this chaos. His script, an adaptation of the Swiss graphic novel Sandcastle, is fairly uneven but serviceable. The real gem comes from Mike Gioulakis' cinematography, which is stupendous. Inventive and thematically sound we often see the camera making smooth pans from left to right, where these directions can imply the passage of time and it's relationship with these characters. One of my favorite instances of this is when Guy and Prisca come to terms with their relationship and one by one pass away. Gioulakis' focus slowly pans left, the oft direction against the flow of time, only to return back to the right to see our characters dead on the beach. It's so subtly powerful, I found it to be riveting filmmaking.
Camera and character work effectively build up all of this tension, at a great pace for a 108 minute movie. Then the hammer drops revealing the twist that the families were lured to the beach for the purpose of secret pharmaceutical experiments based on their various chronic conditions.
Shyamalan not only keeps you engrossed in the film, dying to know the true purpose of this beach, and his own played character watching the beach-goers, but gives the ending the respect it deserves. Not only does his character retreat to the secret research facility, but there's a well placed speech explaining the research along with its recent successes. Some may consider this hand-holding but I found it to be vindicating for a plot I enjoyed so much.
But with all of this good, why is it only a three and a half star review?
Well, simply put, the acting was atrocious. Everyone on board delivered some of the least charismatic performances possible. Flat line delivery and non-believable interactions contribute to the film being bogged down by its rather stacked cast. At some point I was watching this movie and thought the acting had to be due to one of two things. The first, this was a conscious decision by Shyamalan to achieve some sort of artistic result. I think the film as a whole is to be appreciated as such, but the acting I'm sorry is just flat out terrible. Or two, since this was filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, production was rushed and they simply didn't have the time to get it perfect. I'm inclined to believe the... former? Honestly I have no idea but it was horrible performances all around nonetheless. If these could've at least been average I think this could be in the upper echelon of Shyamalan films.
Oh what could've been.
More often than not, you'll be quite excited at the prospect of having a relaxing day at the beach. I once read the entirety of Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP by Mirin Fader while cozied up on a beach, and let me tell you, the vibes were immaculate. But of course the issue with this beach in Old is every 30 minutes ages you one full year. So you better bring shorter books or get the hell out of there.
Or you can throw caution into the wind and enjoy a refreshing YAASSS BEACH! from Future Primitive Brewing! Coincidentally, Future Primitive just opened a new location on Alki Beach in Seattle so we've got double the beach. Triple the beach if we include Old? That might be too much beach.
Anyways, YAASSS BEACH! is about as classic an IPA as one can get. It's juicy, has that textbook citrus aroma combined with the flavor of tangerine, pineapple, and other tropical fruits while rounding home with a not too bitter finish. There wasn't too much that separated this one from the rest of the IPA pack so it left me wanting something a little more out of it, but nonetheless it is a classic IPA for those that love that type of brew.