MOVIE REVIEW – M. Night Shyamalan turns a day at the beach into a nightmare of ageing in Old. While it’s a good basic concept as an adaptation of the comic book Sandcastle, the director doesn’t manage to exploit it sufficiently.
Everyone loves to talk about the big twist at the end of an M. Night Shyamalan film: “Did you like it? Did you expect it? Did it make the rest of the film look stupid? (Some Shyamalan films don’t need any twist for that.) Yet for all the attention paid to Shyamalan’s trademark triple-twist grand finale, it’s the little twists in his films – the ones that happen along the way – that can decide whether the film in question is actually telling an interesting story or just wasting our time with it. Unfortunately, in this case, it is the latter.
Hooray, we’re on holiday!
Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are vacationing with their two children, 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old Trent (Nolan River), on a tropical island at an upscale resort. There’s a bit of drama that the kids don’t know about; their parents are on the verge of a break-up and Prisca is struggling with health problems. Despite this, the couple looks on the bright side and accept an offer from the manager of the welcoming Euro-resort (Gustaf Hammarsten) to take a day trip to a special beach hidden behind a spectacular cliff on the other side of the island. (The van driver is played by Shyamalan, now 50. In fact, he looks remarkably young, but time seems to have passed him by).
They are joined on the beach by a handful of other hotel guests, and then bizarre things start to happen. The body of a naked swimmer is found in the water. Anyone who tries to go back in the adjacent canyon faints. And the two children suddenly look much older – now aged 16 and 11.
What is going on? The beach has a mysterious quality that ages everyone who is there. Every half hour you get a year older. It’s most noticeable in the children, but after a while, the small tumour discovered in Prisca’s stomach comes up. It was three centimetres long, now the size of a golf ball – and minutes later the size of a grapefruit. (It grows as fast as she ages.) So what happens? Charles (Rufus Sewell), the eccentric, fierce and chatty doctor, decides to operate – right there on the beach, without anaesthetic. (It turns out the incision heals instantly.) Boom – the tumour is out, just like that.
But with audiences still absorbing the premise of the film – that almost everyone on the beach is heading for the grave within 24 hours – the fact that this impromptu surgery just… happens because Shyamalan thought it was a cool idea is unlikely to appeal to viewers. This twist is more fanciful than logical, but Shyamalan apparently doesn’t care. He just wants to shock.
Half-baked Twilight Zone story
In Time, as in most Shyamalan films, there’s an extravagant idea (most reminiscent of episodes from the old series of Astonishing Tales) and some elegant filmmaking touches. But instead of the writer-director dosing it gently and gradually, he shocks us in a rush, pulling out all sorts of horrors all of a sudden. For example, the naked swimmer in question was the mistress of a famous rapper, “Middle Sedan” (Aaron Pierre), whom Charles, the surgeon, immediately accuses of murder. The film suggests to us that this is because of her racism, yet fails to bring this into the story on any level or to exploit the tension of this. And why is the rapper’s nose bleeding? We’ll quickly skip over that too.
Charles and his demanding wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) have an 11-year-old daughter of their own, Kara (Mikaya Fisher), and before long she and the now-teenage Trent are together and she’s pregnant. And where are Guy and Prisca in all this? Bizarrely, they don’t look any older. Although Prisca claims that Guy has wrinkled, we don’t see much of that for a long time. It should be quickly added that the mask and trick master wasn’t really on top of things, or it seemed that the film was made on a low budget. Of course, after a while, we do see everyone ageing, but somehow the subtle transition was not captured. It all seems rather odd in a film that is otherwise about such a dramatic development.
We root for no one
In the end, the real problem is that the dialogue is so stupid, the characters are so clashing, so discredited, that we don’t care about the fate of any of them. If we did care, we might care when someone has a football-sized tumour removed from their stomach. Or there’s the unwanted pregnancy, the mental breakdown, the murder, the drowning, the seizure and the very serious calcium deficiency…
An example of the occasionally idiotic dialogue: in the midst of the bloody mayhem on the beach, Trent earnestly says to his parents, “Dad, Mom, you need to hydrate.” No, this isn’t some absurd parody, Shyamalan was serious that it was really appropriate in this situation.
Of course, it all ends with a Shyamalan-style final twist – the most entertaining part of the film, but it comes too late. And the whole film is an hour and 48 minutes long, so it’s no good keeping this in mind: by the end, you’ll be four years older – and you’ll certainly feel it.