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Review: Old is a mostly solid film undermined by jarring twist ending

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A family on a tropical holiday discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly in Old, a new thriller from M. Night Shyamalan.

Director M. Night Shyamalan has a well-known fondness for his signature surprise twist endings. When those twists work organically, we get classics like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. When they don”t—well, if you’re lucky, you get something like his new film, Old, in which everything that comes before is sufficiently compelling that you can almost shake off a jarring final twist that feels so forced, it’s almost like it belongs in an entirely different movie.

(This being an M. Night Shyamalan film where surprise twists are tantamount, I have taken great pains to avoid spoilers. There is nothing discussed in the review below that has not already been revealed in the film’s trailers.)

Old is based on a French graphic novel called Sandcastle, written by Pierre Oscar Levy (also a documentary filmmaker) and illustrated by Frederik Peeters. It’s about a group of 13 people who find themselves trapped on a mysterious, secluded beach where time moves much more quickly—so quickly that young children reach puberty in a matter of hours, and everyone will reach old age and die within 24 hours. Shyamalan received a copy of the book as a Father’s Day gift, and was immediately touched by how it humanely grappled with the all-too-human fear of aging and the relentless passage of time.

Shyamalan’s film is not a direct adaption of the graphic novel, although it keeps the same central premise and several key scenes. It’s more of a re-imagining, with the director fleshing out the narrative and amping up the tension to create an existential thriller that feels more like a “two-hour Twilight Zone episode,” per Shyamalan. Married couple Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal, Mozart in the Jungle) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps, The Phantom Thread) Cappa decide to take a family vacation at a luxurious tropical resort with their two children: daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton), age 11, and son Trent (Nolan River), age six.

The resort manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) arranges a special excursion for the family: a day at a secret, secluded beach. They are not the only chosen ones. There is also a hip-hop artist named Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre, Krypton); another married couple, nurse Jarin (Ken Leung, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and psychologist Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Jupiter Ascending); and a cardiothoracic surgeon, Charles (Rufus Sewell, Man in the High Castle), his trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee, Lovecraft Country), his mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant, The Affair), and their six-year-old daughter, Kara (Kylie Begley).

Nothing seems amiss at first, despite the lack of cell phone service, although the children do discover a stash of other people’s personal belongings half-buried under the sand. Then the corpse of a young woman washes up on the beach, and things take a turn for the creepy. Anyone who tries to leave the beach inevitably blacks out. The corpse decomposes in record time, and the children age several years over the course of a few hours. The beach essentially reduces 50 years of life into a single day, making their collective escape a matter of survival.

This is a fantastic concept, and one can see why it appealed to Shyamalan, who uses the premise to explore how the very different personalities trapped on the beach respond to their predicament. Visually, Old is a gorgeous film, almost entirely shot at Playa El Valle in the Dominican Republic. Shyamalan said his angular cinematographic approach was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Ran and Rashomon, in order to create an increasingly claustrophobic feel to what starts out as an idyllic beach setting. Composer Trevor Gureckis’ score reinforces the sense of foreboding with strings playing detuned harmonies, and tribal bass drums evoking the relentless forward march of time.

There are some truly lovely moments in Old, especially with the Cappa family. Guy and Prisca must confront the issues in their marriage, and struggle with watching their kids grow up way too fast—something Shyamalan, father to now-grown daughters, understands very well. Both Bernal and Krieps give exquisitely subtle performances, while Thomasina McKenzie (JoJo Rabbit) and Alex Wolff (Hereditary) are equally effective as the teenaged Maddox and Trent, respectively

Unfortunately, the other characters aren’t nearly as fully developed, although the talented cast does its best to bring depth to underwritten roles that amount to little more than stereotypes. This is especially disappointing in the case of Chrystal, the trophy wife, whose entire sense of self-worth rests on her youth and physical beauty. Ours is a culture that treats aging women particularly harshly, and there could have been a fascinating character arc for Chrystal where she genuinely grappled with what sudden, rapid aging means for her sense of self. Instead, she becomes increasingly monstrous, which is far less interesting.

The biggest issue with the film is that Shyamalan just can’t resist trying to be clever, thereby undermining the reflective, almost elegiac notes he achieves in the final act. All I will say about that twist ending is that it feels tacked on as an afterthought, and is utterly inconsistent in tone with everything that comes before. Some things are best left unexplained. (The graphic novel that inspired Shyamalan, for instance, never explains the strange aging anomaly on the beach, and ends with a cryptic scene of a young child building a new sandcastle all alone.)

I came out of the screening with mixed feelings, convinced that Old would prove to be divisive with both critics and audiences, and thus far that seems to be the case. (It’s even languishing a bit at the box office, although that’s probably as much due to spiking COVID cases dissuading folks from going to theaters as anything else.) Shyamalan has made several films hammered by critics at the time of their release, which were later re-assessed more favorably (see The Village). Perhaps Old will also be favorably re-assessed a few years down the road, despite its flaws, since it really does successfully evoke both an existential sense of dread, and an ultimate acceptance of human mortality.

Old is now playing in theaters. We strongly recommend only watching movies in theaters if you have been fully vaccinated.

Listing image by Universal Pictures

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Valve moves Dota 2 International to Romania, adds mask-and-vax rules

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Valve announced this week that its prestigious Dota 2 tournament The International will require all attendees to be fully masked and vaccinated for entry.

As noted on the Dota 2 site, anyone attending the October competition at the National Arena in Bucharest, Romania, must be at least 10 days out from their final vaccination, and attendees will need to present proof of inoculation (which must be in either English or Romanian) along with a photo ID to gain access to the event grounds and tournament arena. All attendees must also wear a mask and proof-of-vaccination wristband along with their registration badges. Additional safety protocols will be put into place throughout the tournament.

Now in its tenth year, The International gathers together the best Dota 2 teams from around the globe to compete for a multi-million dollar prize pool.  But over the past year, Valve has not had an easy time with COVID-related restrictions for its annual tournament. The company’s initial plans to hold The International 10 in Stockholm were scrapped earlier this summer after the Swedish Sports Federation decided not to include esports in its officially recognized body—a move that meant anyone traveling for the tournament would be denied an entry visa.

Valve’s subsequent requests for the Swedish government to intervene were denied, with the company announcing the move to Romania in July. (2020’s tournament, which was also planned to be held in Stockholm, was indefinitely delayed in April 2020 over safety concerns amidst the global pandemic.)

The move to make The International a fully-vaccinated, fully-masked tournament is just the latest in a growing trend of gaming events tightening up COVID restrictions. For instance, this summer’s PAX West in Seattle required attendees to present either proof-of-vaccination or a negative PCR test for entry, as well as wearing a vaccination-proof wristband along with their registration badges.

The International 10’s group stage, which doesn’t appear to be open to the public, will be held October 7-10, while the main stage tournament event (the only stage Valve is selling tickets for) will be split between two midweeks running from October 12-15. The finals are scheduled to be held on October 16 and 17. Tickets for the main stage will go on sale September 22, and those are sold in three separate two-day bundles.

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RIP Sir Clive Sinclair, creator of UK’s famed ZX Spectrum gaming computer

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Enlarge / Sir Clive Sinclair holding the world’s smallest television screen when it was created by Sinclair Radionics in 1977.

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Sir Clive Sinclair, the namesake of a British electronics manufacturer who helped pioneer Europe’s microcomputing boom, is dead at the age of 81.

His company, Sinclair Radionics, is arguably best known around the world for 1982’s ZX Spectrum, an early example of a computer capable of multi-color, real-time graphics. The device dominated the UK and other European territories in the early 1980s. This computer was a major processing step up from black-and-white Spectrum computers like ZX80 and ZX81, and it debuted in a configuration priced as low as £125. American readers probably best know this platform thanks to popular and ambitious ZX Spectrum games from the little developer Ultimate: Play The Game. That company eventually rebranded itself as Rareware and turned into a ’90s powerhouse on Nintendo consoles.

Yet before his name became interminably linked to gaming history, Sinclair’s rise to running his own electronics manufacturing company largely resembles the stories of American electronics pioneers who began as garage hobbyists. A BBC documentary, Clive Sinclair: The Pace Setters, chronicles the inventor’s rise, which began with him selling one-at-a-time radio kits via mail order in the 1960s.

As the documentary is region-locked, many readers will have to settle on this BBC text version of its highlights, which follows Sinclair’s rise as a maker of British pocket calculators and portable TVs before redirecting his efforts to personal computers. During this time, an effort to get the British government to back Sinclair as a formally supported PC maker, especially as the government began bullishly promoting computer access in homes and schools, fell apart. Instead, rival computer manufacturer Curry became a “BBC Micro” partner. Sinclair and Spectrum fired back with the more powerful ZX Spectrum, which went on to sell over 5 million units. Sadly, the rest of his career didn’t reach the same heights, and it was largely marked by botched efforts to launch electric modes of transport, including the famous failure that was the pod-like C5 “car.”

For a charming Clive-on-Clive conversation, check out this 1990 interview with longtime British TV host Clive Anderson (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), complete with the two men looking at and talking about various Spectrum inventions over the years—including, incredibly, Sinclair’s failed C5.

Sir Clive Sinclair talks about his product history in 1990.

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Battlefield 2042 joins recent game-delay frenzy, moves to November

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Enlarge / This looks fun.

Battlefield 2042 has been delayed from its initial October 22 release date, though it will still launch this year, EA announced today. The multiplayer-only shooter will now hit stores on November 19, the publisher said in a statement.

Citing the complications of developing games in a work-from-home environment during a global pandemic—by now a familiar challenge for the countless game makers that have had to delay other high-profile 2021 games—DICE assured fans that the team is working on finishing touches rather than dealing with any kind of development trouble. The developer also reiterated that there would be updates later this month regarding 2042‘s open beta. In other words, this is pandemic business as usual.

After Battlefield 2042‘s reveal during EA’s June E3 news blitz, the publisher announced that the game will feature three modes, none of which are battle royale-related. “All-Out Warfare,” the traditional BF deathmatch mode, is finally upgrading to 128 players on current-gen consoles and PC. “Battlefield Portal” is a mashup game that lets players customize matches with elements of Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3 inside 2042 maps. “Hazard Zone” is an alleged squad-based mode that EA has thus far been mum on. Today’s announcement didn’t specify whether all three modes would launch with the game.

As far as the seemingly endless train of 2021 delays is concerned, DICE’s isn’t as bad as it could be. Earlier this week, Techland confirmed its long-in-production Dying Light 2 is being pushed back to February 2, while Ubisoft announced this week that its guitar-instruction game Rocksmith+ is shifting to 2022. Sony also recently announced that Horizon Forbidden West will move to February 28 from its original “late 2021” launch.

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