Review: OLD Is A Mixed Bag Of Big Ideas & Messy Execution, It's Shyamalan All Over
There is nothing even remotely subtle about M. Night Shyamalan's latest genre mindfuck, Old. The director, whose career has been a wildly uneven roller coaster ride since his magnificent debut with The Sixth Sense, has painted himself into a unfortunate corner as the-guy-with-the-twists. Old isn't exactly that movie, ie. The Village or Signs or Split or even the remarkably good Unbreakable, but yet somehow it's not-not that movie, if you know what I mean...
The premise is simple enough: a family goes on vacation to an unnamed tropical island, whereupon they spend a day at a secluded beach only to discover that in this place, they age at a incredibly rapid rate, effectively going through their entire lives in a single day. The vast majority of the film takes place in this stunningly picturesque locale, with a small handful of characters who all bring something unique to the situation.
On paper, the possibilities are endless, and Shyamalan's screenplay (adapted from the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre-Oscar Lévy & Frederick Peeters) takes great advantage of a unique concept. However, it's in the execution of Old that things that should work quite well begin to fall apart, leaving us with a deeply flawed, but nevertheless engaging film that often works in spite of itself thanks to a game cast.
Leading the cast are Gael García Bernal (Amores Perros) and Vicky Krieps (The Phantom Thread) as Guy and Prisca, a couple with secrets who, along with their kids, 6-year-old Trent (Nolan River) and 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton), arrive at the above-mentioned resort in an attempt to escape and regroup before a major life change. When they are offered a special day trip to the secret beach they are joined by another family, surgeon Charles (Rufus Sewell) and his wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their daughter 6-year-old Kara (Kyle Bailey) and Charles' mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) and then later by nurse Jarin (Ken Leung) and his spouse Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird).
Initially upon their arrival, the groups split up to each have their own day at the beach, but circumstances have a way of quickly bringing them together when Trent stumbles across a dead body floating in the water. This brings the introduction of rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), who'd been silently lurking in the background for a good twenty minutes, and whose girlfriend is the mystery corpse that these strangers must now deal with, but whose presence in the film is almost entirely unnecessary.
The idyllic setting becomes instantly more menacing when the families begin to notice unsubtle changes to their children after the first few hours. Swimsuits get too small, bodies and voices begin to noticeably change, and all hell breaks loose. Terrified at the abrupt changes, the adults decide that it is time to leave and they make several attempts to call back the hotel shuttle that brought them with no luck. When they try to leave the way they came, that doesn't go so well either, there's something happening here, and what it is ain't exactly clear. Yet.
Old is a good old-fashioned "What If..." movie. What if... you were forced to live your whole life in a day? How does that affect decision making? How does that affect health? Maturity levels? Relationships? Self-image? If a doctor told you that an illness meant you had five good years and now that means only a few hours, what would you do?
Just like the characters and situations at its core, Old attempts to cram a lot of ideas into its run time, and the ideas are genuinely interesting. Less a straight forward horror film and more a work of speculative fiction/fantasy, does nonetheless address the horrors of aging that we all face on a daily basis, but compresses those down in a way that forces its characters to address their own mortality.
Some of the performances aren't great, specifically the initial group of child actors who don't quite seem up to the task, and there are times where this chamber piece feels more like a play that a film with all of the awkward exposition. There are also an abundance of contrivances that essentially turns each adult member of the cast into a kind of deus ex machina Voltron who know maybe a tiny bit more than they should in any given situation, but whether or not that bothers the viewer depends on one's ability to suspend disbelief. For this viewer, these pieces illicited minor eyerolls, but not enough to derail the film.
Old definitely manages to manufacture and nurture suspense in interesting ways, occasionally even delivering a solid scare - a particular third act sequence with a matchbook in a cave was delightful. However, Shyamalan's detractors will have plenty to talk about as the end credits roll, as I don't think he quite has it in him to stray too far from the patterns he's built for himself. I, on the other hand, had fun, and with remarkably good pacing, the film never gives its audience a real opportunity to get bored, there's always something happening, and more often than not, it isn't what you expected, and I love a good What If...