Synopsis – This summer, visionary filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan unveils a chilling, mysterious new 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.
My Take – It is a matter of fact that ever since he broke ground with The Sixth Sense back in 1999 and doubled down with Unbreakable (2000), writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has been gloriously inconsistent with his works. While Signs (2002) and The Village (2004) left critics and audiences divided, his follow up misfires like The Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013), even left his die-hard fans fuming.
Now coming off of a career resurgence with hits like The Visit (2015), Split (2016) and Glass (2019), his latest, which is loosely based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, looked like a high-concept thriller very much like it’s in Shyamalan’s wheelhouse as a twisted horror tale all ready to be the uncovered. A bizarre concept of age and time with striking visuals and emotional power throughout.
Unfortunately, the film’s clunky dialogue, horrendously dialed up acting, and middling execution places the film awkwardly between horror and comedy, once again bringing into question Shyamalan’s strength as a filmmaker and storyteller.
Though it boasts of an intriguing set-up and a reasonably yet arguably credible conclusion, especially considering how director Shyamalan is known for his narrative twists and surprise moments, the film’s tedious and chaotic handling eventually prevents it from becoming a potentially chilling, supernatural-leaning thriller that actually followed through and not get caught in its own quicksand.
The story follows the Cappa family, which of Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps), and their children, 6-year-old Trent (Nolan River) and 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton), who arrive at a tropical resort for vacation. But unknown to the children, this is going to be their last vacation as a family as the quarreling couple have already filed for divorce. Anxious for diversion, the family takes up the suggestion of their hotel’s manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) that they spend the day at a secluded strand nearby, away from the general public eye.
They’re joined on this excursion by an ensemble of other guests from the resort, including troubled physician Charles (Rufus Sewell), his mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), his trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their young daughter Kara (Mikaya Fisher), a psychologist Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who has epilepsy, her nurse-husband Jarin (Ken Leung) and a rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) whose partner washes up dead the moment they arrive, heralding an onset of strange and increasingly grotesque symptoms.
And as apparently impossible things begin to take place, the group discovers that time is passing at an unnaturally rapid rate at the beach and that escape from the picturesque spot, which is surrounded by high cliffs, appears to be impossible.
The film actually starts out quite well, reaffirming that filmmaker Shyamalan is indeed a master of suspense. Backed by creepy angles that labors lovingly over one shot where characters age years as the camera pans across the beach, while in other he perches just behind children’s heads so we can observe their parents’ alarmed expressions without knowing precisely what is so shocking. Even the primary effect is ruthlessly worked out and thought through.
In the sense the adults at first notice the passing years less, cuts heal to scars within seconds, setting up a gruesome moment later on where someone learns that rapid healing of broken bones can be a curse rather than a gift.
The fact that these parents soon realize they are likely to die after one day on this island, and that there young-minded children are growing into adults without the intelligence to match their age, is something that is a genuinely terrifying thought.
Sadly, the film quickly loses its grip when it asks us to emotionally invest in characters even as it dispatches them one by one, collapsing in the process from a sinister body horror into Lifetime‘s unintentional hilarious drama. Mainly as the dialogue is cheesy and predictable, the characters are paper thin and mostly pointless, the attempts at humor completely fall flat, the setups and pay offs are laid in too obviously and the film takes itself way too seriously. The film just gets severely hampered by too many under-cooked ideas and an awful screenplay.
Personally, the only thing I found the script getting right was its twist ending. Sure, many with disagree with me, especially with philosophy attached to it, but it at least does provide a serviceable enough explanation for what happened in the 108 minutes.
As I mentioned above, the performances are all awful, regardless of the quality of the actors playing them. Gael García Bernal and Rufus Sewell are established actors, hence it is surprising to see them fail so miserably. Vicky Krieps, has been slowly climbing up the success ladder, but here, she is just miserable to watch. Even rising young actors Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff seem to be trying their hardest to out-do each other on who can over-exert the most. Emun Elliott and Embeth Davidtz as their old versions don’t fare any better.
In supporting roles, Abbey Lee, Eliza Scanlen, Nikki Amuka Bird, Ken Leung, Aaron Pierre, and Kathleen Chalfant too suffer as their characters are not interesting or worth caring about, which makes it really awkward when the film wants you to care about them in a dramatic moment or a death scene. On the whole, ‘Old’ is an embarrassing thriller which fumbles its strong premise with unintentionally hilarious moments.
Directed – M. Night Shyamalan
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 108 minutes