At this point in pop culture history, the general reaction to learning that M. Night Shyamalan has a new movie out is to ask, “So, what’s the twist?” Old’s premise—a group of vacationers stumbles upon a beach that causes them all to start aging at an alarming rate—practically begs for the question to be asked. Why, after all, is this beach making them grow old so quickly? What’s going on?
If those questions have crossed your mind and you just can’t wait to know, or if you’re too scared to actually watch the movie, we’ve got you covered. If you’ve already seen the movie and want to make sure you didn’t miss anything, we’ve got you covered, too.
So what’s the twist?
As it turns out, the beach is being used by a pharmaceutical company so that they can test the efficacy of their drugs over the course of a single day rather than a patient’s normal lifetime. They run a resort as a front, shuttling their unfortunate victims to the time beach under the pretext of taking them to an especially lovely seaside getaway.
Wait, so they made the beach?
No, the beach was preexisting but discovered by the company.
And the beach makes people age so quickly because … why?
It’s never 100 percent explained, but it’s suggested that the rocks that surround the little cove that the characters get trapped in are … special, somehow.
What? Is this a sci-fi movie? Are there monsters or aliens?
It’s sort of sci-fi, I guess, or you could think of it as in the high-concept tradition of The Twilight Zone, but there are no monsters or aliens. Just humans and a time beach.
And a single day is a lifetime?
As the characters figure it, one hour equates to two years of life, so a single day would effectively be 48 years.
Are all of the resort guests taken to the beach?
No, presumably for the sake of not alerting the authorities to the fact that there are suddenly so many missing persons.
I’m not sure that only having a few missing persons at a time would make a huge difference!
We’ll get to that.
So what happens at the end? Do the characters figure out how to stop time, or go backward, or escape, or disarm the magic time rocks, or what?
Unfortunately, they do not manage to find a way to stop it. As a result, most of the characters die! The only two to survive are two of the children, who are 6 and 11 when the movie begins.
How do they make it out?
At the beginning of the film, 6-year-old Trent makes friends with Idlib, the resort manager’s young nephew, and they invent a code by which to communicate. Close to the end of the film, the now-adult Trent finds a note that Idlib left in his bag, which, when uncoded, says that his uncle does not like the coral. Trent and his sister Maddox, the last two survivors, manage to swim out to and through the coral, and make it back to the resort, where they immediately blow the whistle on what’s going on.
Why didn’t anyone try swimming away earlier?
They do, actually, but the coral seems to be … also special, but in a different way than the rocks? Because trying to leave the beach by any other method—swimming in not-coral areas, trying to climb the cliffs, etc.—causes blackout-inducing headaches, leading to a few characters drowning. As one character hypothesizes, the headaches are induced by the change in how time is passing, i.e., the temporal equivalent of an altitude headache or the bends.
What makes the coral so special?
In the same way that the beach just happens to make people age quickly, so too is the coral just somehow free from the effects of time-warping.
In the trailer, I saw a pregnant character. What’s up with that? I’m pretty sure that takes more than time.
So, as Trent and Kara, another vacationer’s daughter, become teens, they get cozy, and they end up getting Kara pregnant. Because the island is the way it is, she goes through a full pregnancy within the span of 20 minutes. The baby sadly dies almost immediately after being born, as time passing so quickly also means it basically starves to death within a minute.
Though shouldn’t everyone else die by the same principle, then? Or does everyone else spend the whole movie eating two years’ worth of food every hour?
By the movie’s logic, it’s not that everyone has to eat two years’ worth of food every hour. It’s just the kids, because they are doing two years’ worth of maturation every hour, who have superhuman appetites, to match their superhuman growth spurts. (And you thought your puberty was bad!) Still, even they don’t have to consume two years’ worth of food every hour—they just eat like they’ve got the munchies.
So what makes the people who end up on the beach so special?
At least one person in each party has some sort of illness. Upon arriving at the resort, everyone is served a special cocktail that—while it may seem like just a nice perk—actually contains the drug that’s supposed to be tested upon them. The group members we get to see—who, over the course of the film, do find out that most of them are sick somehow—are actually part of “Trial 73.”
There’ve been 72 trials before? Again, how has nobody noticed this?
What the movie posits is that, because everyone is encouraged to leave their passport at the hotel, the pharmaceutical company can then take those and fudge everyone’s records so it looks like they never came to the resort at all. But at the end of the movie, when Trent and Maddox rope a police officer into investigating, he discovers that everyone they’re naming is a missing person.
Last question: Is this movie part of the M. Night Shyamalan Cinematic Universe? Is there a post-credits scene where Bruce Willis or Samuel L. Jackson or, I don’t know, Adrien Brody shows up?
The main family is from Philadelphia, obviously, but no, there’s no scene where Unbreakable shows up and you find out whether his powers make him immune to the time beach, nor is the lady in the water. Maybe if Old gets a sequel?