M. Night Shyamalan made these changes to Old’s source material Sandcastle

M. Night Shyamalan’s new film Old is now in cinemas, and although it divided many critics, we think that it may be his best movie in recent years. Following a group of families trapped on a supernatural beach that makes them age rapidly, Old has a universal story that all of us who are scared of death or a couple of wrinkles will tremble at and remember for years to come. But where exactly did Shyamalan get his idea for this terrifying story?

It turns out that the movie is actually based on a 2010 graphic novel titled Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy. One day M. Night Shyamalan was given Levy’s novel as a gift from his children, who thought that he would find its story interesting – which unsurprisingly he did. The 116-page book, illustrated by Frederik Peeters, spoke to the Split director on a deep level, intriguing him with its story of 13 characters trapped on a deadly beach during a fateful family vacation. But, you may be wondering, how close did the director stick to the source material when he made Old? Or what exactly are the differences between the novel and the new movie?

Well, we decided to look over both, examining Levy and Peeter’s original work, and M. Night’s adaptation to see just how similar the two stories really were, and spoiler alert, we discovered plenty of juicy differences.

What is the beach in Old and Sandcastle?

The big difference between Sandcastle and Old is firstly where it all takes place. M. Night frames the beach as being part of a luxury resort. In the movie, a family goes on a holiday to an island paradise, and are swept away to the mysterious beach by a van driver on their second day of vacation. Although an exact place is never named, with the crystal clear water, sunny skies and plenty of surrounding lush fauna, it is safe to say that the movie’s location is somewhere south of the Equator. The beach itself is actually more of a cove. It is completely surrounded by cliffsides, and almost hidden away from the rest of the world by its towering rocks.

In the graphic novel, the beach is in the South of France and has high sand dunes covered in shrubs – much like any European coastline. Unlike the very contained and hidden away cove in Old, this beach is much larger, and relatively normal looking. Even a sign warns the characters that there isn’t a lifeguard on duty, suggesting that this is just a regular beach open to the general public most days. It is also worth noting that the huge cliffsides that we see in the film, are not in the graphic novel. Instead of hulking rocks, we see sand dunes, and dense vegetation in the distance, and there is almost a woodsy feel to the environment, as opposed to the more exotic look of the film.

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Old expands on the beach itself, making its existence and purpose into a mystery. In comparison, it is more of an embodied metaphor, and an indescribable force in Pierre’s high concept science fiction novel. As said before, the beach in Old ends up being tied to a larger conspiracy, and we are given some explanation to the ageing process, which turns out to be caused by the minerals in the surrounding cliffs. All the characters in the movie also haven’t been put there by random. They were deliberately chosen to be placed on the beach to die – another major difference from the graphic novel.

Are the characters the same in the movie?

In Old, the characters stuck on the beach are the Cappa family, Guy (Gael García Bernal), his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps), and their two children, Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and Trent (Luca Faustino Rodriguez). With them is another wealthy family on holiday, doctor Charles (Rufus Sewell), his wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their daughter Kara (Eliza Scanlen), and Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) – Charles’ mother. And finally, besides the two families, a couple and a famous rapper also find themselves trapped in the cove. As time begins to move at super-speed, it is revealed that each family has someone suffering from an illness, and it is later exposed that their illnesses are the very reason why the ‘resort’ decided to bring them to the deadly beach in the first place.

In the graphic novel, we see two families coming to a beach on vacation, just like in the movie. However, there are more characters on the beach this time around, and they all have different backstories and dynamics from the people that we see in Shyamalan’s adaptation. The first family, who were the inspiration for the movie’s primary family – the Cappas – is made up of married couple Robert and Marianne and their children Felix and Zoe. They also have a dog, which in the movie, we saw Agnes (Charle’s mother) have as her fluffy companion instead. Old shows more drama being put into the main family’s narrative. In the movie, Guy and Prisca are a couple on the rocks, preparing for separation, whereas in Levy’s work, Robert and Marianne seem to have a loving relationship, devoid of conflict.

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The second family in the novel represents Charles’ family. Here we see the closest similarities in terms of single character comparisons. Both the movie and the novel show Charles being a doctor with a temper, who also harbours some racist tendencies. In the movie, Charles shows prejudice and enacts eventual violence against an innocent African American rapper, and in the graphic novel, the character shows hostility towards an Arabic man ( the character that the musician replaced in the film). The graphic novel shows the second family also having another child, a son called Louis, who doesn’t appear in the movie at all.

Another big difference between the original book and the movie is all the characters we see in the resort. In the novel, the characters go to the beach on their own accord; we see the families driving themselves to the coast, with no outside interference. In Old things are a lot more nefarious, as we have previously touched on. As we said before, the characters in the movie are deliberately chosen out of the resort’s guests, are personally taken to the secluded cove by a van driver (played by M. Night himself), and are basically ushered to their deaths.

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With the resort’s inclusion, the movie introduces us to the suspicious manager (Gustaf Hammarsten), who welcomes his victims, handing them cocktails and smiling sinisterly before sending them off to their demise. We are also introduced to his nephew, who befriends Trent, and later plays a massive part in the children working out how to escape the cove at the end of the movie. Obviously, Shyamalan was inspired by all the characters in the original graphic novel, but he made each person in his script fit his vision. Every family has an expanded backstory, has new dynamics, and some characters just didn’t make the cinematic cut altogether (sorry Louis).

The graphic novel is purely focused on what happens on the beach, with no other characters to distract readers from the here and now. You never see the outside world in Sandcastle; the closest you get to a different setting is when a character tells an Arabic story about a king trying to flee death during everyone’s last night. There are no resorts, no evil managers, and no filmmaker moonlighting as a van driver in the original graphic novel.

Do Old and Sandcastle have different stories?

Like we said before, the graphic novel is very much about the experience of the families, whereas Old has a tense mystery at the core of its story. In the movie, the characters are calculatedly taken to the beach, and in the novel, they all drive down to the shore on their own accord, expecting a normal beach day. The film also shows the characters succumbing to their illnesses, with someone filming them on the cliffside, watching them suffer, as dementia, cancer, and epilepsy begin to ravage their bodies along with their rapidly ageing cells. The book is more focused on the process of ageing itself, showing 13 different characters of varying ages and life stages being stuck on a supernatural beach and experiencing semi-normal lives in the space of a short day.

Despite these glaring differences, there are some similarities in the two’s stories when you look at the events on the beach. In M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation, the central concept hasn’t changed; we still see the characters age at super speed, with that being the driving factor of the entire script. We also see the victims getting bleeding noses and fainting when they try to leave the beach, just like how the character’s in the book did when they tried to escape. And finally, the most terrifying scene in the novel is brought to the screen. Both Old and Sandcastle show a six-year-old growing up, getting pregnant and giving birth in a single day, the scariest and most intense part of both stories. However, even these similarities have a new twist put on them in Old.

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Old gives reason to the beach’s phenomenon, tries to explain why the characters keep fainting, and shows the newborn baby dying straight away after the young girl gives birth. On the other hand, the novel shows the baby surviving and growing up rapidly along with the other characters. The book also portrays the ageing process as being a lot faster than what we see in the movie.

The graphic novel ends with the main cast having died during the night. Only the new child, who is now middle-aged herself, is alive and alone on the sandy coast. Levy’s graphic novel ends with her building a sandcastle on the beach while shedding a single tear over her now-deceased family that she only knew for a few hours.

In the movie, both Trent and Maddox survive until the following day, and are only in their 50s. They manage to escape the beach and uncover a massive conspiracy, which we have unpacked in our Old ending and twist explained.

While obviously inspired, Old is very different from Sandcastle, and we are pretty glad it is. Although Levy’s graphic novel is stunning, Shyamalan adapted it right for its new medium. By adding more meat to the characters’ backstories, giving viewers hints at what was causing the supernatural occurrence, and a juicy mystery, he makes Sandcastle work as a movie. Old is an excellent example of adaptation done right, keeping the essence of its source material, while making it different enough to entertain viewers in the cinema.

For more supernatural thrills, make sure to read our list of the best horror movies.

Emma-Jane Betts

Staff Writer

Updated: Jul 26, 2021


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