Thursday, July 22, 2021

Movie with Abe: Old

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Released July 23, 2021

Few filmmakers have established such a distinct – and temperamental – reputation for building up audience expectations as M. Night Shyamalan. His breakthrough feature, “The Sixth Sense,” was released when he was only twenty-nine years old and earned multiple Oscar nominations and a high bar for twist endings. This horror-averse reviewer hasn’t screened any of this filmmaker’s work from the past decade, especially following the miserable “The Last Airbender,” but a return trip to a screening room was in store for his latest high-concept piece that delivers more in terms of its ideas than its execution.

Several families on a tropical vacation are given a recommendation for a hidden, private beach that will make their stay infinitely more relaxing. When they arrive, they are horrified to find a dead body in the water. Two parents (Vicky Krieps and Gael Garcia Bernal) are startled to realize that their children Maddox and Trent, formerly eleven and six, have now aged several years (Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff). Other guests on the beach include a cocky doctor (Rufus Sewell), his wife (Abbey Lee), elderly mother (Kathleen Chalfant), and the couple’s young but aging daughter (Eliza Scanlen), a nurse (Ken Leung) and his epileptic wife (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and a lonely rapper (Aaron Pierre). As the hours drag on and the impossibility of their situation becomes clear, they wonder if they can do anything to stop time from passing far too quickly.

This film’s poster reveals its general premise by showing a woman’s legs on the beach, one normal and youthful and the other with a skeletal foot. How this can be a possible isn’t important, but what these characters do want to figure out is exactly what’s going on and what the “rules” are that might enable them to escape a fate that will certainly kill them all. That process is cumbersome and messy, and the dialogue involved is far from convincing. Characters walk up and down the beach without urgency and seem to get too easily distracted from the very urgent task at hand. Additionally, there’s no real consistency to how the aging process works, and there’s an overindulgence in gruesomeness that doesn’t feel at all necessary since the true horror of this scenario is that time is passing too quickly for any of them to be able to stop to figure out how to combat it.

Like Shyamalan’s previous films, this one relies on a major twist. Fortunately, when that moment inevitably arrives, the film becomes infinitely more compelling, but that doesn’t justify the time spent to get there. This is an intriguing concept but one that gets stuck too much on the shock of its reveal and the tediousness of the conversation that seeks for far too long to deny its truthfulness. This is a strong cast with plenty of impressive credits, yet they’re not given a fantastic platform here, relegated to arcs that don’t feel terribly emphatic and then recast with other actors if they survive long enough to make it to the film’s end. It does present tremendous food for thought, but burrowing out of the uninviting and unremarkable middle for a worthwhile end isn’t entirely satisfying.


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