Say what you will about M. Night Shyamalan, but when it comes to his filmography that has a mixture of successes and flat-out disappointments over the past 20 years, you can deny he’s a writer/director willing to put out something creative to his mind, even when it sounds completely outlandish. He hasn’t been someone who hasn’t top his best The Sixth Sense, but I’m willing to give him a chance when walking into the theater, which is the case with his latest, Old, that had some promise, but you already know what you’re getting into.
What’s the Story: On a tropical vacation at a stunning resort, a group of strangers finds a secluded and beautiful beach where it’s the perfect place to relax and unwind. While it may seem perfect at first, it turns out this specific beach is causing its visitors to age rapidly as time moves fast, reducing their lives into a single day.
Not that I should be uncool to get excited about a new Shyamalan movie, but my guts always tell me to. And while this isn’t an original story from him this time, this is an adaptation of the Swiss graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, which I can see why he wanted to provide his own spin to what he must’ve grown an attachment to. Nobody knows why this is happening, and they never know what might happen to them. And after watching the trailer, there’s enough that had the potential to be another hit from him after Glass managed to be a disappointment from two years ago. Did I want Old to be the biggest surprise of the year? Yes. But did it leave me feeling frustrated in how this played out? As mildly predictable when even though it can only get weird, that certainly means everything to think about this remains questionable.
You go inside the theater hoping Shyamalan can deliver on this concept that’s on the borderline of something right of The Twilight Zone, and the intrigue behind it is enough to have us wonder what would happen if a beach we expected to lay back and enjoy the beauty gets interrupted with the disturbing notion of getting older hour by hour, leaving the fact they can’t escape the beach to get help. Is it enough to get by? That alone hinges on why Old feels like a mixed bag from me. It does a solid enough job at having us answer questions about wanting to become older and about our mortality, but it’s because of what we see here is what I don’t want to think about at the age I am, especially not knowing if I’ll catch some disease more than likely to kill me.
That said, I couldn’t help but be annoyed with the direction he incorporated here. It’s a beautiful-looking one for sure since it’s shot in the Dominican Republic, but it was almost messy in how Shyamalan shoots the characters in awkward poisons with close-ups on the actors’ faces when it’s hard to tell where to look to when an unnecessary use of shaky cam when someone runs took me out completely. It can be hard enough to have a story set in one location where nobody has a clue how to leave, but maybe there could’ve been more in the pot to add more to it to why time is moving quickly with these events occurring. That, combined with his screenplay, came across as silly and almost forced to have us, the audience, remember what was told to us earlier where just the delivery of a lot of these lines are those typical lines people wouldn’t say in real life. During other times, my first thought was thinking they only had one take and someone thought it was fine.
As for the acting, this is not nearly as bad as the laughable performance in The Happening, but it’s kind of confusing how these talented actors didn’t make the writing from the script better to really not care for them in this situation following. Actors like Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) as husband and wife Guy and Prisca Cappa give it all they can, and the best I can say is they tried as this married couple on this last trip together before separating. Besides the family, there’s also Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Eliza Scanlen, and others doing what they can as well given material better than them all together, probably. I will say out of everybody in this, both Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff gave the strongest performances as the teenage versions of Trent and Maddox Cappa when it was at the point where its believable knowing these are still kids in their minds, realizing they must be scared. And I’ll give this credit to the other actors portraying the characters younger and older.
It’s best to know this is more of a thriller than horror, and even this didn’t provide those captivating thrills I expected this to have. The pace of its 108 minutes is well-done where it won’t bore you until the third act when it was hard knowing when it will conclude. Aside from one moment that got a jump scare out of me, the only thing that will leave you feeling is uneasy realizing every one of us will become old. It wasn’t hard for me to watch in an unsettling way when I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to affect me? If I were a parent, it would freak me out watching my own kid growing up in front of me after an hour or two. There’s definitely the theme of spending the time you have with your loved ones, never wasting a single moment in the present. That’s easy to see what it was going for, but it wasn’t enough to leave me fully engaged the entire time. I can see where most will find it unintentionally hilarious when it is meant to be taken seriously. I can’t lie when saying there were a couple moments that got me to chuckle from Len Leung’s performance as the nurse named Jarin when he’s saddled with the weakest dialogue out of everybody.
And since we all expect the writer/director to give us a twist ending (duh), for better or worse, this one didn’t click for me when it wasn’t what I come to expect despite not being predictable. For me, this was like missing the basket to beat the other basketball team from its star player, only to feel unrewarded when it’s over. It’s one you have to see for yourselves to see where the building of the mystery leads to. A part of me tried hard to enjoy Old and let me be open-minded about it in hoping it would explore the body horror more and have it get under my skin. Yet, it’s hard to not get over how clumsy and uneven everything it wants to be when there’s so much improvement to be found. Not the worst thing in the world, but you’re better off watching better movies from his filmography.
Final Thoughts: Old shows how ambitious M. Night Shyamalan can be with an exciting concept in his hands. But the execution cannot be a thrilling one thanks to its awkward direction, flat performances, and weak dialogue. Not his best or his worst, but won’t leave a lasting impression once it ends. Was the potential in the right place? Sure, and there’s a possibility it will have different responses from others out there.