It is a heady concept, but like most of Shyamalan’s oeuvre, “Old’s” ambitions outstrip its execution. Saddled by wooden dialogue and stilted acting, the disposable characters range from uninteresting to annoying. Shyamalan’s camera work — a swirl of acute angles, out of focus, slow-motion, tracking shots, and everything in between — adds to the disquieting sensation of the film until it starts to feel excessive.
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You may not love M. Night Shyamalan, but you’re glad that he’s around. Few filmmakers not among Tinseltown’s elite can consistently pique the interest of moviegoers, conjuring event film anticipation out of B-movie material. That is the space that “Old” occupies, a supernatural thriller helping to usher our post-pandemic return to the theaters, even if what we find once there feels as stale as day-old popcorn.
Based on the Swiss graphic novel “Sandcastle,” the film centers around 11 vacationers at the Anamika Resort, a tropical island getaway, who are coaxed by the resort’s manager into the “once in a lifetime opportunity” of spending the day on an idyllic cove isolated from the rest of the resort. The central protagonists are Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Grieps), a married couple spending one last holiday with their daughter Maddox, 11, and son Trent, 6, before announcing their separation.
They are joined by a doctor, Charles (Rufus Sewell), his high-maintenance wife (Abbey Lee), along with their daughter and his mother. There’s a knowledgeable nurse (Ken Leung) and his psychologist wife (Nikki Amuka-Bird), plus a famous rap star (Aaron Pierre) who goes by the handle—I kid you not — ”Mid-Sized Sedan.”
It does not take long for strange things to start happening, beginning with the dead body of Sedan’s girlfriend washing ashore. The woman’s body decomposes in a matter of minutes, then Maddox and Trent begin to mature so rapidly that they soon resemble teenagers. All the beach-goers begin to age quickly—one year for every 30 minutes on shore, Prisca deduces—which sets the stage for Shyamalan to revisit his “Twilight Zone” meets Hitchcock tableau.
Cuts heal almost instantly and a cancerous tumor inside Prisca starts expanding exponentially. Charles experiences very early onset dementia, which begins with being comically preoccupied by trying to remember the name of the movie that costarred Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson (I confess that I couldn’t recall it), but soon devolves into a sadder, more sinister spectacle. There’s an unexpected pregnancy that lasts mere minutes from conception to birth. An unseen force acts as a barrier keeping anyone from leaving the beach, which features the belongings and relics of past visitors strewn about.
It is a heady concept, but like most of Shyamalan’s oeuvre, “Old’s” ambitions outstrip its execution. Saddled by wooden dialogue and stilted acting, the disposable characters range from uninteresting to annoying. Shyamalan’s camera work — a swirl of acute angles, out of focus, slow-motion, tracking shots, and everything in between — adds to the disquieting sensation of the film until it starts to feel excessive. So, too, his preoccupation with body horror, although the fate of a woman suffering from chronic calcium deficiency is a rather haunting sight.
Shyamalan never quite drills down into the existential underpinning of his material. There are a few hints at the unrealized potential: a quiet moment between an elderly Guy and Prisca, who can’t remember why they once fought just hours ago but still comprehend their affection for each other; young kids suddenly facing the urges and confusion of instant adolescence; two adults spending their final day of life building sandcastles as a monument to their stolen youth. But there is not nearly enough contemplative care taken and too much anvil-heavy allegory about the fleeting quality of life and preciousness of time.
There is little value to mapping the plot holes in a film of this sort, although if the one means of escape for those trapped on the beach is positioned just off-shore, why wouldn’t the island’s minders just destroy it? And when the de rigueur Big Reveal™ finally comes, it’s accompanied by far more eyes rolling than jaws dropping. “Old” is more of Shyamalan’s same old same old. It holds your attention, only to leave you wondering why you stuck around.