There was a time M. Night Shyamalan could do no wrong, sadly that is not true of his new thriller Old.
Walking in with the great concept of a beach where time is moving faster for our cast of characters sounded like a slam dunk for the Sixth Sense (1999) director. It felt like a story tailor-made for his odd thriller/horror sensibilities. The terrifying concept of seeing you and your family live out their lives in a single day, and watching everyone you love quickly fade away is a mesmerizing concept, yet somehow Shyamalan took this and made a dull, over simplified, pandering mess. In Old we see the worst traits of his directing style and none of the brilliant ideas that made him a household name.
Taken from the graphic novel “Sandcastle”, by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, Old tells the story of a family who while teetering on breaking up, decide for one last tropical adventure. Travelling to a resort, parents Guy and Prisca Capa (Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps) and their children, 11-year-old daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old son Trent (Nolan River) are looking to escape and enjoy their time relaxing.
Setting up a great yet heartbreaking concept, Shyamalan does not trust his audience to take in the moments, resulting in some clumsy dialog early on that sets up the film, but takes away any sense of getting to understand or engage with this family naturally. They feel a prop for Shyamalan to set up, making the events that follow all that more shallow.
Stilted conversation aside, the resort feels uncanny, with every aspect made to cater to the Capa family’s needs and wants. From the drinks they have to the way they are directed on adventures feels strange. It is here we also get a taste for how Shyamalan lost the ability to write children, with Trent being precocious at the best of times, and utterly insufferable at others. The need to connect with the characters is what makes the premise work, and somehow M. Night missed this vital piece of the puzzle.
But needing to move the plot forward, finally the resort director pushes the Capa family to explore a special secluded beach with Doctor Charles (Rufus Sewell), mother (Kathleen Chalfant) and young wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) along for the ride. They are later joined by Nurse Jarin (Ken Leung), his wife, and Psychologist Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird). With everyone now on the beach, the stage is set for the strange to start happening, and things go from bad to worse very quickly.
The core concept of Old is good, and Shyamalan manages build the tension slowly, giving a taste of how horrifying it would be to age two years for every hour they spend on the beach. Feeling the fear the parents are struggling with as they know the children they love will grow old and die all in a single day is a brutal one, and one that could have been better explored. But no mater how masterful the idea is, if the characters, dialog and pacing don’t work, the idea is lost in the process.
“The tension, and dread the setting and concept works to invoke it utterly wasted, leaving Old as more a disappointment “
As the movie progresses we start to see children age into teens, and eventually adults, but the sense of time and urgency is often lost for shocking moments or simply to throw the audience off. That is not to say there are not good moments, with one body horror moment being particularly brutal and unnerving. But these good moments feel overwhelmed by Shyamalan underestimating his audience’s perception of the film.
The best tension can be ruined when characters don’t feel human or relatable. And it can be obliterated when the characters feel like they are walking off the set of The Room feeling stilted or just chewing the scenery—remember The Happening. While we don’t devolve into a nonsensical concept that it was the trees all along, the tension, and dread the setting and concept works to invoke it utterly wasted, leaving Old as more a disappointment then a true failure.
With a twist that falls flat, and a concept that feels squandered, Old is a movie and concept I wanted to like far more than I did. There are some good moments, and some terrifying concepts at play, but nothing ever feels cohesive or works to captivate the audience. M. Night Shyamalan used to trust his viewers to take in horrifying and sometimes complex concepts, but somehow he lost this trust, and his movies suffer from it. There needs to be more to movies than a twist, and a single idea does not make a masterpiece. As it stands, Old is a worthy rental or something to indulge in if you like Shyamalan catalogue, for everyone else, there are better choices out there.