Movies

The Biggest Differences Between Old and the Eerie Graphic Novel That Inspired It

Family members hugging one another in a scene from Old
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Phobymo/Universal Pictures.

This post contains spoilers for Old and Sandcastle.

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest feature, Old, is inspired by the 2011 graphic novel Sandcastle. Written by award-winning French documentarian Pierre Oscar Lévy and illustrated by Swiss comic artist Frederik Peeters, the book was initially published in France, before being translated into English by Nora Mahony and released in the United States in 2013. While it received critical acclaim, twist master Shyamalan might just be its biggest fan, claiming that “from the moment I read this, I was changed.”

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It’s easy to see why Sandcastle appealed so much to the director of The Sixth Sense, as it combines psychological and supernatural horror. The comic revolves around people relaxing at a nameless beach who begin mysteriously and rapidly aging. But where Sandcastle tends to be vague and cryptic, Old gives the whole scenario a stringent setup and explanation, with many new story details filled in by Shyamalan, who wrote the screenplay himself. And of course, Shyamalan makes sure to add a signature twist. Below, we’ve broken down the biggest differences between Old and its source material.

The Beach

The primary beachfront setting of both Sandcastle and Old differs between book and film. Sandcastle takes place almost entirely on the nameless beach, which is presumably set somewhere in France. (The exceptions are a few short snapshots of car rides en route to the destination.) Old expands on this setting. At the beginning of the movie, we see the main characters heading to a luxury resort with servers and caterers, fancy drinks and food, and comfortable hotel lodgings. The resort manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) recommends the beach to them, and a guide played by Shyamalan himself drives two of the families there. The climax of the movie is set at locations not seen at all in the book: a tunnel of coral and a research lab connected to the resort (more on that later).

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The beaches in the novel and the movie also look different: Sandcastle’s beach is larger, with little woodsy nooks and crannies and a grassy field that sits a ways back from the water. Old’s beach, however, is smaller and more constricted; the characters cannot go to the hideaways that some of Sandcastle’s beachgoers explore.

[Read: Is M. Night Shyamalan’s Old Scary or Just Goofy?]

The Vacationers

Many—though not all—of Sandcastle’s characters make it from page to screen, albeit with significant changes in names, temperaments, and identifications.

Sandcastle’s first family is the basis for Old’s primary family. In Sandcastle, this consists of a bespectacled man named Robert; his wife, Marianne; their daughter, Zoe; their younger son, Felix; and their dog, Elvis. In Old, the family is made up of Guy (Gael García Bernal); his wife, Prisca (Vicky Krieps); their son, Trent (first portrayed by Nolan River); and their daughter, Maddox (first played by Alexa Swinton). Shyamalan expands on the family’s backstory significantly: Unlike Robert and Marianne, Guy and Prisca fight often and are on the verge of divorce, and the latter is also later revealed to be both dealing with a tumor and cheating on her husband, neither of which happens in the comic. In the book, both Felix and Zoe start at much younger ages, while at the beginning of Old Trent is 6 and Maddox is 11.

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The next family introduced in Sandcastle is British. The patriarch is a racist, aggressive doctor named Charles, there with his mother-in-law; his wife, Nathalie; their daughter, Sophie; and their younger son, Louis. While the family remains British, in Old they are Charles (Rufus Sewell); his mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant); his now much-younger-looking, hypocalcemic wife, Khrystal (Abbey Lee); and a daughter, Kara (first portrayed by Mikaya Fisher). He has no son in Old.

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The third family, whom we meet much later in Sandcastle than we do in Old, includes an elderly science-fiction author named Henry Lascaride; his daughter, Florence; and her husband, a nurse named Oliver. Lascaride does not appear in Old, although in the movie some characters do come across the scribbled musings of a sci-fi writer. Instead, there’s Patricia—introduced early on as an epileptic, a detail important to the on-screen plot but mentioned nowhere in the novel—and her nurse husband, Jarin (Ken Leung).

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In Sandcastle, the very first character to appear is an Algerian Kabyle jeweler whose name we never learn. At the beginning, he emerges from sleep in a rocky cave on the side of the beach when he sees a young woman strip off her clothes to go skinny-dipping. He voyeuristically shifts his vantage point to get another look at her, only to soon see her lifeless body float to the top of the water—all before any of the families get there. It’s then implied that he attempts to escape the beach, only to pass out in the field behind it; Robert and Marianne’s family stumble upon his unconscious body there as they walk toward the beach. He doesn’t speak to the family, but instead sneaks away to a shady enclave, where he discovers he has a nosebleed. Robert claims he “didn’t like the look of that guy,” which prompts his wife to jokingly ask if he’s racist. (This dynamic is prominent throughout the book, as he faces racist treatment by Charles as well; this is likely meant to tie into the colonial history of France’s former hold over Algeria.)

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In Old, this character is significantly altered, becoming a prominent rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), whose music one of the beachgoers is familiar with. The skinny-dipping dead woman appears in Old as well, but she’s there with Sedan, who says they were making music together before she died. Sedan also gets a nosebleed, but it’s explained as a chronic medical condition, not an effect of the beach. Though he does face suspicion and hostility, especially from the movie’s Charles, the European-colonial-Algerian component of the racism is not quite as apparent in Old as it is in Sandcastle.

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One new and important character written into the story entirely by Shyamalan is the resort manager’s nephew, Idlib (Kailen Jude), who befriends Trent at the resort and passes him coded messages. These details later play into Old’s twist.

The Story

In both Old and Sandcastle, things immediately start going wrong when the families make it to the beach: The kids and adults start rapidly aging, the skinny-dipper’s corpse is discovered, and the doctor’s mother-in-law/mother dies soon after as well. Other shared plot points, with slight differences: A sort of powerful force field keeps the beachgoers trapped in their area, although the specific effects it has on them slightly differ in the movie; two of the growing teens have a baby together, who survives until the very end of Sandcastle, where she’s seen as an adult, but who dies immediately after being born in Old; there appears to be a man with a camera watching the families from a distant cliff (though, unlike the novel, the film later confirms exactly who he is).

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One of the most significant storytelling differences between the comic and its adaptation is how long the characters survive. In the former, all the major characters hold out until they resign themselves to their fates, either aging into death or killing themselves; in the latter, however, many of the characters get gradually picked off And Then There Were None–style, with some directly murdering other beachgoers and others dying in their attempts to escape the premises. The people of Sandcastle eventually find a level of camaraderie with one another despite the tensions, but the circumstances become too much for many of the people in Old; eventually, the movie’s only survivors are the family consisting of Guy, Prisca, Trent, and Maddox. The parents then die of old age, which leaves Trent and Maddox to crack the mystery of the beach alone.

The Experiment

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In Old’s ending, Trent and Maddox reflect on the past few days at the resort and then the beach. Trent remembers that Idlib left him some coded messages, which he translates—leading him to discover a potential escape route through a coral reef in the water. He and Maddox swim out there, though Maddox then gets one of her clothes suck on the coral. This is documented by the man on the cliff, whom we discover is none other than Shyamalan’s character, who’s been keeping tabs on the families and reports back to the resort that though it seems Trent and Maddox almost found their way out, they likely have drowned. Shyamalan’s character then heads back to the resort, where he walks through a pharmaceutical research lab featuring scientists at work on different experiments. It turns out that the materials on the beach that cause the hyperaccelerated aging process are part of a deliberate experiment to test medicines meant to cure chronic diseases; the aging process is necessary because the pharma company’s scientists want to ensure their medicines will last a human lifetime before releasing them for general consumption. For a deeper dive into this zany ending—and the revelation of yet another new twist after the big reveal—my colleague Karen Han has written a useful breakdown.

In Sandcastle, the possibility of the rapid aging being an experiment conducted on the characters is raised, and that theory is supported by a few minor details, but it’s never spelled out fully like it is in Old, making for a much more ambiguous read. The book ends with the baby born on the beach, now grown, alone and building a sandcastle.

For more on Old, listen to this spoiler-filled discussion of the movie.

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