Wondering what to watch this weekend? Summer heat is finally beginning to encroach upon us, and so we have a trio of sun-soaked movies to match the pleasant weather, and one for those who prefer to stay indoors.
Chief among them is M Night Shyamalan’s surreal horror Old, an adaptation of the novel Sandcastle, where a family of four on holiday at a resort get trapped on a beach that is inexplicably causing them all to rapidly age – Shyamalan sharply imagining both the physical and mental knock-on effects on those unlucky enough to be marooned there.
MUBI hosts Hitchcock-inspired beach-set drama with Stranger By The Lake, a Cannes Film Festival hit and erotic thriller set in a gay cruising spot. Not long after the release of his most recent film Babylon — also an ode to the madness of Hollywood — Damien Chazelle’s La La Land hits Prime Video, another romantic tragedy about how that pursuit of life in the arts is often as euphoric as it is gruelling and shattering.
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Old (2021) | Netflix (pick of the week)
The timing of Old’s release — it was one of the first films in cinemas after lockdown — still feels incredibly potent: “We’ll never have a graduation or a prom, there are so many memories we won’t have. It’s not fair,” one character laments.
At its core, film’s uncanny terror is of precious moments with loved ones being stolen. M Night Shyamalan’s theatrical dialogue may not be to everyone’s tastes but his handling of space and visual symbolism is as compelling as its ever been here, and playful too: casting himself as a man literally ferrying his characters to their doom as he drives them to a beach which causes them to inexplicably age rapidly.
Later, in one of the film’s more audacious frames, he lifts from Rear Window in a moment where he observes them through a camera.
Watch: M Night Shyalaman tells Yahoo he doesn't consider Old to be a horror
Adapting the novel Sandcastle, the film sees Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) giving their children one last nice holiday at a resort before their impending breakup. They’re taken to a secluded beach, one that they find they cannot leave, and one that begins to rapidly age everyone.
The kids grow up, wounds instantly heal, dormant medical conditions begin to escalate. Shyamalan makes creative, existential horror out of the domino effect of these conditions progressing, in moments that emphasise the strangeness and fragility of the human body. That, and everyone becoming aware of the time that they’re losing, and how they’re changing.
Director of photography Michael Goulakis (a collaborator with Jordan Peele on Get Out and Us) lenses the film beautifully, compellingly drawing our eye towards things just off camera, the implication of what’s lurking on the edge of the frame being enough to disturb (one scene involving a surgery around a rapidly growing tumour and a just as quickly closing wound, is jaw-dropping).
It loses some of that uncanny terror as it over-explains the mechanics of how this is happening, but regardless Old is one of Shyamalan’s most deliriously thrilling and also moving films in sometime: observing human habits and relationships in compelling microcosm, as the awareness of losing that time also heals some things – petty squabbles, fractured relationships – as quickly as it breaks them.
Also new on Netflix: Blood & Gold (2023, Original)
The Whale (2023) | Prime Video
Brendan Fraser's Oscar-win for his performance in The Whale was one of those instances where the win was more for the man than the movie itself.
The Mummy star is nothing short of phenomenal as Charlie, a morbidly obese English professor who is trapped — literally and metaphorically — in a cycle of grief. His inner turmoil manifests in compulsive and destructive habits, but a health scare snaps him out of his stupor as he attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink), between visits from his friend and carer Liz (Hong Chau).
Aided by an impressively realistic full body prosthetic by renowned prosthetics designer Adrien Morot, Fraser delivers a heart-wrenching performance that plays into the actor's own story of isolation, and was full deserving of the actor's first Academy Award.
What other critics thought of The Whale
The Independent: Brendan Fraser comeback is grossly manipulative to an effective degree (4 min read)
The Telegraph: Brendan Fraser seals his comeback in a sensational film of rare compassion (3 min read)
The Wrap: Darren Aronofsky Handles a Heavyset Character With a Heavy Hand (5 min read)
However the film itself, adapted by Darren Aronofsky from the Samuel D Hunter play of the same name, seems ham-fisted in its approach to Charlie's plight. The camera seems to revel in his condition, lingering on his oversized form as he masturbates, showers, sleeps, sharing close ups of greasy fingers snatching at fast food. It all works counter to the empathy elicited by Fraser, and while we root for Charlie, it's hard to see why he wants to reconcile with his bratty daughter at all.
It's telling that Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau and the hair and make up team were all Oscar nominated, while the film was snubbed in all the other major categories. - TB
La La Land (2016) | Prime Video
2023's Babylon — Damien Chazelle’s most recent paean to the arts and the people who chase stardom — is in some ways a recollection of La La Land, a bittersweet Hollywood story that finds romance but also heartbreak in that pursuit.
Though it’ll sadly be remembered for that infamous Oscar upset, Chazelle’s musical is still as charming and light on its feet as it is emotionally potent, working the chemistry between a smitten Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone for all they’ve got.
Read more: The movies that won the most Oscars
A dazzling opening number on a highway is as perhaps as remarkable as the music and dance gets in its large scale, oner tribute to technicolour, but it’s that relationship which carries the film through its less elegant numbers: there’s still undeniable magic in seeing the two ascend into the air in LA’s iconic observatory.
Also on Prime: Malignant (2021) from 27 May
Stranger By The Lake (2013) | MUBI
Speaking of beaches: this sensual thriller by Alain Guiraudie keenly observes a sun-soaked spot on the shores of a lake — the nudist beach and surrounding area a popular cruising spot for gay men.
Franck often comes here, the time that Guiraudie observes is different however, with his attraction to a mysterious man named Michel. The sparks are immediately evident, but complicated by the little thing of Franck witnessing Michel drowning a man, and a love affair between murderer and witness begins.
Guiraudie mixes Hitchcockian suspense with frank eroticism, his camera working in admiration of the character’s bodies, rarely leaving anything to the imagination in its sex scenes.
Also on MUBI: Unclenching the Fists (2012)