Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir-scr M Night Shyamalan
prd Marc Bienstock, Ashwin Rajan, M Night Shyamalan
with Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Eliza Scanlen, Kathleen Chalfant, Aaron Pierre, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliott
release US/UK 23.Jul.21
21/US Universal 1h48

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bernal and wolff
Another brain-bender from M Night Shyamalan, this film grips the audience with a sense of foreboding even before the freak-outs begin to roll in. Yes, there's a climactic reveal that over-explains everything, but the idea is ingenious, and the way it plays out is genuinely unsettling on a variety of levels. It helps that it's shot on a spectacular beach in the Dominican Republic with an up-for-it cast.
Heading to a luxury tropical island resort, Guy and Prisca (Bernal and Krieps) and their young children get to know fellow guests as they visit a hidden beach for the day. These include alpha-male doctor Charles (Sewell), his trophy wife Chrystal (Lee) and mother Agnes (Chalfant). And when they arrive at the goosebump-inducing location they run into rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Pierre) as well as Jarin and Patricia (Leung and Amuka-Bird). But things quickly take a turn with the discovery of a body. Then the children begin to age at a scarily rapid pace.
The film's pace only accelerates as this group of people discovers that they are unable to leave this beach, and they calculate that each of them is getting a year older with every half-hour. This speeds up the adults' existing conditions in unnerving ways, while transforming three little kids into adolescents (Wolff, McKenzie and Scanlen) and beyond. As they continue to seek an escape route, they also sense that someone is watching them. Shyamalan films this in a woozy style with widely swerving camerawork, limited perspectives and tight close-ups.

Each of the actors creates a vivid character, vividly playing his or her distinct internal reactions to what's going on. Bernal and Krieps anchor the audience in each scene, maintaining their cool despite their troubled back-story and increasingly limited senses. Wolff, McKenzie and Scanlen have complex roles as youngsters in adult bodies, matching cleverly with the actors who play the characters before and after. And Sewell has the most challenging part, as Charles' paranoid brain begins to slip.

Shyamalan keeps the tension very high throughout the film, even in scenes that are quieter or more expository. And there are several properly nasty moments to make us squirm in our seats, without ever being gratuitous about it. Some of the more plot-driven moments seem a bit contrived, and the final act is forced to make a major point-of-view pivot in order to unveil the premise's secrets and bring things to a conclusion. But it's a fiendishly inventive idea that gets us thinking about mortality.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 22.Jul.21

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