Writer/director/supporting actor M. Night Shyamalan’s Old is a strange film, even for him. A few days before seeing it, there were few summer movies I was more excited about. In a season of sequels, remakes, prequels and spinoffs, here is the new thriller from one of the craftiest (if most wildly inconsistent) young filmmakers working today. Now, having seen it, I find it hard to recommend, let alone imagine myself watching it more than once.
The story centers on a married couple (played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps) and their two children, as they check into a tropical resort, go to a secluded beach, and find that time works differently for anyone on sand. Kids suddenly age rapidly, and the adults start to wither away. Saying anything more would result in spoilers, which I won’t do. However, without giving anything away, I’ll say that I wish the film was more like the trailer, which had the characters show up to the beach and stuff just starts happening, whereas the actual film sets up the story with side characters and a setting that are obviously sinister clues.
The premise carries the film, which is almost enough to make one overlook how the performances aren’t very good, and the dialog is much worse. I like so many of these actors (particularly Bernal and Thomasin McKenzie) more than their work here.
The cinematography is initially beautiful and clever, until it relies too heavily on artsy choreography and calls too much attention to itself. There are too many circular pans, aimless shots, and scenes where the camera is positioned self consciously off-center. While this isn’t a bad movie, like Shyamalan’s The Happening or After Earth, it has some of the same problems and is closer to those missteps than the masterpiece of his recently completed “East rail 177 Trilogy.”
Old is original but off-putting, with a concept not entirely unlike Scott B. Smith’s The Ruins or even Sartre’s No Exit, but Shyamalan’s handling of the material seems not fully realized and muddled. There are plot aspects that are hard to swallow but I could have forgiven all of that had the characters pulled me in, but they didn’t.
If Old resembles anything, it’s the filmmaker concocting this after binge watching the entire six season run of Lost. At times, I couldn’t tell if the touches of humor were intentional or not.
Throughout the film, I wondered if what I was watching was terrible or brilliant, as Old is so peculiar, even an initial audience dismissal will probably lead to a cult following down the road.
In addition to lacking great performances, this also, unlike Signs or The Sixth Sense, fails at being scary or tonally consistent. What this has in abundance is sheer nuttiness. I’d put it above Shyamalan hall of fame stinkers like The Last Airbender but just below minor works like The Visit and Devil (which he didn’t direct but conceived of and produced).
Although based on a 2010 graphic novel called Sandcastles and sporting what will likely wind up the best movie poster of 2021, Old isn’t quite the Rod Serling-esque knockout it clearly thinks it is (and that includes the wrap up). I was in the film’s corner for a while, hoping it would finally kick into high gear, but it left me unfulfilled. The last 15-minutes created genuine rooting interest in the main characters but the intended crowd-pleasing finish does what the characters have been doing the entire time: talking too much and spelling everything out. Shyamalan’s best films are haunting, whereas this one is just so odd, I’ll certainly remember it, but that’s also how I’d describe a platypus.