A getaway to a tropical paradise becomes horrifying when a group of bathers, including the couple on the rocks Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps), realize their private oasis is quickly aging them. With the years and the infirmities that accumulate hour by hour, the race is on to solve the mystery.
On this magnificent beach (the Dominican Republic is doing better than most of the actors), a handful of vacationing families are transported, buttered by their resort manager who promises a “unique experience”. Shyamalan always does this thing where he uses realistic adult problems to distract us from the wrong stuff; this time it’s divorce, as a loveless husband and wife (Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps, neither fully persuasive) yell at each other behind closed doors.
Marital difficulties tend to fade, however, when one finds out everyone else on the beach – including lazier creations like a bratty trophy wife (Abbey Lee), an arrogant doctor (Rufus Sewell) and a rapper. (Aaron Pierre) – ages at the rate of several months per hour. Moreover, they cannot leave. There is poetry in this idea, the years flying away like summer breezes. But Shyamalan rarely touches on the emotional underpinnings of the material (the source is a 2013 graphic novel, Sand castle). More often than not, he opts for shock rewards: Within minutes of seeing two children playing with plastic buckets, they have become teenagers in love walking hand in hand, pregnant belly swelling alarmingly.
The plot gets bogged down in desperate escape attempts: swimming, solo climbing, scuba diving. Shyamalan’s camera is equally choppy, whipping the characters into a breathless race. It’s his best idea. Time waits for no one, especially on this beach. (You can roll your eyes at the director’s inevitable cameo, during which he can be seen staring through a Hitchcock-sized zoom lens, unnecessary flex.) Top actors including Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff, add a hint of boost to their rushed teenage years.
Is there a twist? No director has ever grieved so much the bogus weight of surprises in the third act. You won’t read any spoils here, but by doing Old, Shyamalan, 50, seems halfway there. His new film constantly threatens to be better than it is – deeper, more metaphysical, less beholden to gadgets. By challenge, this is a haunted beach. And it’s good. But someone should tell this filmmaker, so eager to waste time with elaborate contraptions, that the clock is ticking.
A Twilight Zone-worthy premise, subtly sold by ace makeup effects, makes it a pretty decent thriller, intriguing at the time but ultimately too shy to say anything meaningful about aging.