THE STORY – 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.
THE CAST – Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abbey Lee, Aaron Pierre, Alex Wolff, Embeth Davidtz, Eliza Scanlen, Emun Elliott, Kathleen Chalfant & Thomasin McKenzie
THE TEAM – M. Night Shyamalan (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 108 Minutes
By Daniel Howat
You’ve settled in on a lovely, private, hidden beach, but soon, things appear to be slightly off. You and everyone on the beach seem to be aging quickly. By the end of the day, you’ll be fifty years older.
It’s not the premise of a classic “Twilight Zone” episode, but instead M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller “Old.” Adapted from the graphic novel “Sandcastle,” this is the rare film from Shyamalan not to be his original idea. Perhaps it’s this departure from his own material that makes “Old” so hit-and-miss. It’s often very tense yet laughably ridiculous. It’s fast-paced and rarely slows down, yet often quite dull. Some performances are solid, while others feel like they’re in a different, worse sort of film. “Old” is wildly inconsistent, preventing it from ever being genuinely as good as some of the director’s better works such as “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” or “Split.”
Guy and Prisca (Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps, respectively), along with their 11-year-old daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old son Trent (Nolan River), embark on an island vacation at a stunning resort. Soon, the family is invited by the resort’s manager to check out a hidden beach across the island. Naturally, others join them on the beach, and they soon start to discover the strange passage of time that awaits them – and that they can’t escape. It’s difficult to dive into exactly what happens on the beach without spoiling anything, but naturally, things devolve into horrors before long.
The biggest problem for “Old” is its essentially unfilmable premise. How does one portray on film a single day in which every character ages fifty years? In that respect, Shyamalan has put forth a respectable effort in terms of casting and applying makeup to the actors. The story is coherent and even enjoyable, but it’s the tone that drags the whole thing down. Too many plot points are inherently hilarious, though played completely straight. Often, some of the film’s most dramatic moments made the audience laugh out loud when they were supposed to be fearing for the characters’ lives. “Old” may contain the most laugh-out-loud hysterical death scene I’ve ever seen, and I’m reasonably sure it wasn’t intended to be funny. Indeed, the tone was so inconsistent that I never knew whether Shyamalan wanted us to laugh or not, even when we discover that one of the characters is named Mid-Sized Sedan. No, really!
Though he succeeds in keeping the overall mystery alive, Shyamalan’s writing telegraphs too many moments before they happen. Too many weirdly specific things are pointed out, almost screaming at the audience, “Remember this! It’ll be important later!” It’s a strange choice to see from a filmmaker famous for his twists. He’s also just as renowned for his cringy dialogue and odd character choices, which are here aplenty as they too begin to diminish the intriguing story.
The writing isn’t the only inconsistent thing about “Old.” Among many other things, Shyamalan is known to favor unique composition and framing throughout much of his work. Steady shots, slow camera moves, and even action happening just barely off-screen are relatively common for the director. While the unique framing continues here in “Old,” when combined with messy, unclear, and seemingly clumsy camerawork, it’s off-putting. Using every trick in the book (split-diopter, roaming shots, deep focus, shallow focus, hidden cuts, shaky cam, Steadicam, you name it), the visual style is all over the place. It’s a far cry from now-retired cinematographer Tak Fujimoto’s stunning work in Shyamalan’s earlier career.
While there’s so much wrong with “Old,” it’s somehow still better than it should’ve been. It’s a ridiculous premise, but the story itself kept me engaged throughout. Perhaps it’s the simple mystery of it all; what’s really happening on this beach? This movie certainly feels like a “Twilight Zone” episode stretched to 108 minutes, but Shyamalan knows how to keep his audience interested until the very end. “Old” may not be particularly good. Still, there’s something to be said for a film that at least intrigues you and keeps you invested, even through all of the poor dialogue and other questionable methods Shyamalan employs.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The premise is intriguing, with a mystery that keeps us wondering what’s going on until the end. Most of the cast does a fine job as well, notably Vicky Krieps and Thomasin McKenzie.
THE BAD – Too many dramatic moments are unintentionally hilarious. Clumsy cinematography, writing that telegraphs every move, and poor direction sink the appealing story.