There is no director more polarizing than M. Night Shyamalan. A quick glance at the critical reception of his filmography is nothing short of astounding. Shyamalan made a name for himself on the Hollywood scene with The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), and Signs (2002); three well liked films in a three-year span that grossed over $600 million domestically. He could not be topped. Shyamalan then directed two more films – The Village (2004) and Lady in the Water (2006) – that received more mixed reactions. And then the next seven years would prove to be one of the worst stretches of directing known to man. If you combined the Rotten Tomatoes scores of his next three films – The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013) – you would have a whopping 33%. Absolutely filthy. Somewhere somehow, the man forgot how to write and direct. Shyamalan has since recovered some momentum with quasi-hits The Visit (2015) and Split (2016). The moral of the story? When heading into a M. Night Shyamalan film, expect nothing and everything. There is just no predicting what you’ll get. And on that note, I will say I enjoyed Old.
On the verge of divorce, couple Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread) take their family to an island vacation resort. They are invited by the resort owner to a secluded private beach, where they quickly find themselves trapped with other resort guests. Not only are these people stuck on the beach, but something on the beach is causing them to age rapidly. The film is adapted from the graphic novel Sandcastle, written by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters.
We all know of the cliché goal in life to find enough money before retirement, disappear, and die on a beach somewhere. A peaceful end. However, in Old, M. Night Shyamalan turns that dream on its head; there is no peace on the beach he places us on. The characters are aging rapidly, and milestones in life are flying fast behind them. The kids on the beach feel their childhood slip away, as before they know it, they’re adults taking care of their now elderly parents.
The story Shyamalan has crafted is a scary concept to imagine, and there is little explanation for what is going on for most of the film. Why are these resort guests trapped on the beach? Why do they black out every time they attempt to leave? And what is causing them to age so quickly? An initial interpretation of the film might deduce Old is a metaphor for how quickly time flies and how there is no escaping the cycle of life. In traditional Shyamalan fashion, a twist at the end of the film reveals all. A new answer is offered. I won’t spoil Shyamalan’s final trick up his sleeve, but I will say it presents an interesting ethical dilemma. Whether or not this ending will be satisfying may depend on who’s watching.
Ultimately, how much you enjoy Old is dependent on how much you buy into the concept of the film. If you can look past the movie’s quirky characters and sometimes clunky dialogue, as I did, there is a genuinely unnerving experience to be had at the core of the film. Old doesn’t measure up to the thrill ride that was Split, nor does it boast a performance as masterful as James McAvoy’s, but the film still captured my attention and Vicky Krieps is pretty good (Thomasin McKenzie, who was excellent in Jojo Rabbit, is also good here as the teenage version of the daughter). Just remember my advice from the beginning of my review and you should be fine: expect everything and nothing at the same time, maybe even a rapper who goes by the name “Mid-Sized Sedan”…I wish I was making that up.