This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Matt Strohl’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
On the one hand, it's a tightly-structured high concept exercise, but on the other hand, it's a whirlpool of entropy. So many things are happening at once in this movie. First, there is the sci-fi horror story about some people who fall prey to a nefarious medical experiment, which primarily functions as a critique of the-ends-justify-the-means ruthless utilitarianism. But as is typical for Shyamalan, this blunt thematic framework is the beginning rather than the end of his ambitions. For most of the movie, we have no idea what's really going on and the wild events of the narrative play as surrealism. Once all hell starts to break loose, he doesn't narrowly orient the movie towards its thematic goalpost, but rather dives headfirst into the prismatic range of possibilities that the situation opens up.
Shyamalan never wastes anything. For instance, in The Happening, not a single suicide is tossed off-- every single one is inspired. He doesn't opt for easy clichés with any of the characters on his beach either. He tries to put the full weight of life into every subplot, and blasts every emotion at once at full volume. It would have been easy to gloss over the cognitive development of the kids, but he doesn't. He finds some incredible moments by engaging with this very thorny material. For instance, Maddox talks about how her thoughts have more colors than they used to, but each color is less intense. What a remarkable way to put it! She's still a child in one way, so she lacks the concepts that we would use to explain the changes she's experiencing, but she also has the intelligence to apprehend that they are happening and to come to terms with them (a child's terms!). And then, FUCK, the pregnancy, infant death, and then the fucking burial of the decomposed infant wrapped in a towel-- FUCK-- again, the kids have adult emotional responses that they have to make sense of with children's concepts.
Once the characters understand the situation and begin to accept their fate, we get some equally thorny, unflinching material about the ephemerality of life and how it should affect the way we live. This theme is introduced with the on-the-nose dialogue early on between Bernal and Krieps about how the one is always looking to the future and the other to the past, and they (and the kids) are always chasing away the present. The dilemma that develops on the beach is that efforts to escape appear futile, but stopping to enjoy the day is resignation to too short a life. But, the thing is, you face a version of this dilemma even when you're not on this beach! We are constantly having to decide between things that potentially advantage us in the long term and non-instrumental engagement with the present, and life ends up feeling too short no matter what we do! The great irony is that the characters only discover how to escape when they stop to play. There's such a sweet and sincere melancholy to this resolution... it's utterly Shyamalan. But then his positioning of the filmmaker as sadistic puppeteer cuts against this sweetness. I don't know if any moment in a 2021 movie blew me away more than the revelation that it's him holding the camera.