Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Eliza Scanlen, Aaron Pierre, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliott, Alexa Swinton, Nolan River, Luca Faustino Rodriguez, Kylie Begley, Mikaya Fisher, Kailen Jude, M. Night Shyamalan, Matthew Shear, Jeffrey Holsman, and Daniel Ison.
A thriller about a family on a tropical holiday who discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly reducing their entire lives into a single day.
As per usual, writer and director M. Night Shyamalan makes a cameo appearance. Here in Old, he portrays a paradise island driver transporting a carefully selected group to an exclusive beach. For those unaware of the film’s basic premise, the location turns out to be a magical spot capable of aging its inhabitants rapidly. One hour is equal to about two years worth of lifespan. Naturally, the stressful situation gives the characters much to panic about, but it’s extra sinister knowing that the director himself is stepping in front of the camera to bring these guests to a living nightmare (with mysterious forces at work that won’t let them leave).
Given the setup of cameras and acknowledgments of an associated pharmaceutical company, it’s also easily deduced that these people have been specifically chosen for a purpose. Going in, most will likely be trying to figure out the filmmaker’s latest twist, and while I will say there is one, this time, it doesn’t feel sprung on viewers in a manner that’s meant to be shocking. That’s not to say his writing is slipping (I don’t know if he can go much lower than some of his most extreme career low points) or that the reveal here is lame, just that he is a lot more liberal with clues and allusions. Perhaps it’s also because Old is not entirely the brainchild of M. Night Shyamalan (it’s based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederick Peeters), this time his goals go beyond pulling one over on the audience. Old is arguably the most ambitious film M. Night Shyamalan has made thus far, which only makes the missteps a good deal more frustrating.
The good news is that M. Night Shyamalan is also having an infectious blast exploring the horrors of aging and the importance of quality time spent together. It’s no surprise that much of the running time is spent watching these people trying to escape while unearthing details about what supernatural juju they are dealing with, but when one of them ponders whether it’s even worth it to keep trying, there’s a part of oneself that’s almost inclined to agree. Any living thing’s final seconds alive should be a happy moment in some capacity. That sentiment is doubly felt considering most couples and families brought out to this secret beach are dysfunctional somehow, whether it be infidelity or simply not getting along. Another reoccurring factor seems to be that most of these people have either a mental or physical illness, ranging from tumors to seizures to dementia to anger issues. They also appear to be wealthy, typically holding jobs in highly regarded occupations. As you can imagine, all of that set free into one setting under distressing circumstances paves the way for hostility and more fighting.
In fairness, Old probably has too many characters for its own good (there’s a reason I’ve barely bothered to actually talk about them, as going down the list saying something about each one would probably take up an entire review’s worth of text). It’s not a matter of the story itself becoming complicated due to having so many clashing personalities, as Old is actually relatively straightforward, but that nearly every significant moment (and this movie pretty much flies from set piece to set piece across its 110 minutes duration) has its emotional heft undercut from, ironically, not having enough time to spend with the characters. Just because they are stuck constantly aging doesn’t mean they can’t be further developed. As a result of simply too much, there’s not a single death that’s impactful here (including one that should be a layup to generate some kind of emotional response yet fails).
One can’t help shaking the feeling that M. Night Shyamalan would have had a more substantial experience (symbolically, thematically, and in terms of characterization) by sticking to the primary family of the narrative. They are husband and wife Guy and Prisca (Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps, respectively) and their two children Trent and Maddox (played by various actors as the characters go from early childhood to late life). Most notable are two of the most impressive young stars around, Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie embodying teenage versions of the aforementioned kids, mainly since the film is also concerned with exploring the acceleration of their brains and craving new experiences that come with aging. In the case of Trent, puberty and hormones affect him with the force of a shotgun blast (a friend he also makes ages alongside him, leading to a sexual encounter followed up by something else insane and entertaining), and his emotional maturity initially doesn’t seem to be keeping up. It also makes for some of the trademark awkward line delivery of M. Night Shyamalan movies to have some purpose, although, for the most part, it’s distracting how wooden and stiff everyone talks and remains something that needs to go from anything he does moving forward.
The supporting cast is fun, although more of an unnecessary distraction (self-absorbed beauty queens are reckoning with fading sexiness culminating in some deliciously grotesque body horror, a knife-wielding maniac whose frequent attacks uncovers any injuries sustained will automatically heal, and some others that probably should have been cut entirely). Whenever Old is fixated on marital struggles, making peace, the effects of children speedily growing up into fully grown adults, and the litany of crazy scenarios that arise, it’s admittedly thrilling and easier to swallow the flaws within the storytelling execution. Old is probably as good as it’s going to get when you take M. Night Shyamalan’s numerous filmmaking idiosyncrasies and toss them into a blender with pathos regarding time.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com