Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 2021. Universal Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures, Perfect World Pictures. Screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan, based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre-Oscar Lévy, Frederick Peeters. Cinematography by Mike Gioulakis. Produced by Marc Bienstock, Ashwin Rajan, M. Night Shyamalan. Music by Trevor Gureckis. Production Design by Naaman Marshall. Costume Design by Caroline Duncan. Film Editing by Brett M. Reed.
Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps bring their children to a gorgeous resort hotel whose gleaming perfection will hopefully provide a great balm to the wounds that the couple are privately suffering. After enjoying some time on the nearby beach and indulging in the ample supply of food and activities, the foursome are approached by the resort manager who tells them that there’s a private beach nearby that he only shares with the guests he takes a liking to. They take a bus to this little piece of paradise, a truly awe-inspiring, abandoned stretch of sandy shore overseen by magnificent cliffs, which they only have to share with very few others: joining them are a middle-aged, high-strung doctor (Rufus Sewell) accompanied by his mother (Kathleen Chalfant), his trophy wife (Abbey Lee) and their six year-old daughter, as well as a couple (Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird) and a lone stranger (Aaron Pierre) who seems distracted and is suffering a perpetually bleeding nose. Almost immediately, things start to go wrong, first a dead body washes up on shore that Pierre says is his girlfriend, then the older members of the group start to suffer while the children start to rapidly go from six year-olds to teenagers in a matter of hours. Something mysterious about this beach causes humans to age rapidly, which means things like tumours growing, the onset of dementia and puberty are all in a day’s work, while a mysterious force in the rocks surrounding them prevents them from leaving, each escape attempt is met with their returning to the beach disoriented and in pain. The group scramble to try and figure out what exactly is happening and why, piecing together the few clues they can find as gradually they succumb to the effects of their environment.
M. Night Shyamalan, the gleeful trickster who often sets up high-concept scenarios and explores their possibilities to the bitter, twisting end, has once again tangled his audience in a highly compelling yarn that builds from quiet, disarming subtlety to a series of disturbing and horrific images. The opportunity to enjoy being the cruel puppet master who puts his audiences through almost as much as he gives to his characters is one that he wastes, however, for Shyamalan wants to be liked even more than he wants to be admired and gives up on making a horror movie by the time you reach the overly explained, far too comforting ending. We can forgive that the dialogue veers between either awkward fails at poetry and uninventive exposition, and that the performances range from very good (Bernal) to very bad (Leung) and everything in between, but a true horror movie doesn’t answer all the questions it raises when setting up a situation this scary. To make up for it, the film could instead have enriched its drama with a thoughtful investigation of as big a theme as aging, on how the shifting tides of our relationships are affected by time and what this means when it happens in one day and not over decades (and to ask, philosophically, is there a difference?) In adapting the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters, however, Shyamalan goes nowhere near such depth, instead arranging the pieces of a very fun puzzle before the self-congratulation of a full solution that, ultimately, marks the experience as being there to serve no one but himself. It’s a fun movie, though, and the images are a treat in themselves, the cinematography gets great height out of the location (shot in the Dominican Republic) and the giant cliffs are a haunting character hovering over all the frantic action.