Premise: 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.
If you’re one of the few remaining stalwarts of M. Night Shyamalan’s films in 2021, you probably already know if you’re going to enjoy his newest film, Old. It’s been a bumpy road for the writer-director ever since the breakout success of The Sixth Sense in 1999. Virtually every new project feels like it’s treated with reserved skepticism, given Shyamalan’s largely floundering genre exercises, and I’m sorry to report that Old does him no favors.
The most notable Shyamalan films start out as intriguing elevator pitches – usually with a leaning towards the horror genre – but struggle to expand beyond that for a full feature-length runtime. Lady in the Water tried to explore mythical creatures with a comic book atmosphere, but ended up feeling clunky and awkward. Signs was an alien invasion story with themes of grief, and The Village dealt with faith and fear of the unknown, but both of those couldn’t escape their more-notable and less-successful “twist” endings. There is a certain camp factor to Shyamalan’s films that makes them more enjoyable, and Old definitely has elements of camp, but not enough to fall into so-bad-it’s-good territory.
The hook for this film is simple enough: a family vacations on a mysterious island and discover they’re aging suddenly and rapidly. They black out if they try to go back, and the water is too treacherous to swim out of. They’re soon joined by other couples and families who experience the same symptoms, with a notable dash of psychosis in some cases, as they try to escape their fate. The main subject of Old is comprised of parents Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Pricsa (Vicky Krieps) and their children Trent (primarily played by Alex Wolff) and Maddox (Thomasin McKenzie). Early on, it’s revealed that this idyllic getaway has some unsavory drama lurking beneath the surface between Guy and Prisca involving an upsetting medical diagnosis and a possible separation. Joining the family of four is surgeon Charles (Rufus Sewell), his much younger beau Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and their daughter Kara (eventually played by Eliza Scanlen), along with couple Jarin and Patricia (Ken Leung and Nikki Amuka-Bird, respectively). They also soon discover rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) has been there before they arrived, but for how long is unclear. Each castaway has his or her own mental or physical impairments, which only accelerate the longer they’re on the island. Shyamalan never really manages to bring up these issues organically, which brings to light the main issue with Old.
It’s hard to believe that this is the same Shyamalan that directed Haley Joel Osment (who was only 11 during The Sixth Sense) to a Best Supporting Actor nomination when most of the non-adult dialogue in this film is delivered so woodenly. Then again, not even celebrated actors like Krieps or Bernal or McKenzie manage to make Old‘s often-ridiculous dialogue and exposition come off as anything but clunky. For example, one of Trent’s inexplicable quirks is that he likes to ask someone their name and occupation upon meeting them. This is a film that prides itself on body horror, which it mostly pulls off effectively, but can’t find an organic through-line between those shocking moments. Beyond that, Shyamalan populates the film with interstitial scenes where he pairs off two seemingly random pairs of characters with little-to-no rationalization; it feels like the connective tissue between these scenes has been cut out from the final product, which only adds to the ultimate confusion.
It’s a shame that the script (written by Shyamalan and based on the graphic novel “Sandcastle”) fails the auspicious premise because Shyamalan at least manages to employ some interesting camera techniques, including a back-and-forth dolly shot once the family arrives at the resort, and an extended single-take sequence around the midway point when the film reaches its bananas apex. The dynamic between Guy and Prisca is the best developed subplot, but the film that surrounds it doesn’t come close to reaching that same level of nuance. The cinematography by Mike Gioulakis helps to sell the idea that this is a romantic setting with darkness hiding in plain sight. Music by Trevor Gureckis is sparse but effective when needed, avoiding the trappings that the genre typically entails. And when the inevitable twist comes in the last 20 minutes, it comes as more of a shrug than a shock. Perhaps this comes with knowing that every Shyamalan film comes pre-loaded with a twisty finale, but the ultimate revelation doesn’t necessarily paint the previous events of the film in a different light. Old probably won’t go down as Shyamalan’s worst film, or even his most disappointing. But, especially given the talented cast he’s populated it with, Old goes down as a misbegotten opportunity.
Old will be available in theaters nationwide on July 23.
Read Matt’s Review Here.
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com and a recurring co-host on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast, and a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.
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