James Jay Edwards

After a Couple of Hits, Shyamalan Is Back to Middling with Old

Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Trent (Alex Wolff) in Old, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. (Universal Pictures)

James Jay Edwards reviews Old, the newest film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, inspired by the graphic novel Sandcastle. (Universal Pictures

 

Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, the “Master of the Twist,” is at it again. He’s back with his newest movie Old.

Like all Shyamalan movies, it’s best to go into Old as blind as possible. The basic premise is that a group of tourists are dropped off at a beach near their resort. But this is not just any beach; each hour spent on it ages the revelers about two years, so over the course of a day and a half, they’ll live a lifetime. And if they try to leave the beach, they black out and must return. There appears to be only one way out of this predicament …

 

(Old, theatrical release poster, courtesy Universal Pictures)

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I am a big Shyamalan fan, to the point of being an apologist at times. Even movies that most consider bad like The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth I find entertaining. And when he’s on, as he has been with gems like The Sixth Sense, The Village, and the UnbreakableSplitGlass trilogy, he makes my yearly Top Ten list. He is one of my favorite filmmakers.

All of that being said, Old is middle-of-the-road Shyamalan. Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, the premise is fresh and exciting. The stunning location and smoothly frenetic camera work of cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (It Follows, Us) help the movie look great, and a pounding score by composer Trevor Gureckis ratchets up the tension with each and every subsequent scene. The cast, which includes talented actors like Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También), Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread), Alex Wolff (Hereditary), and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit), does a remarkable job with the material that is provided.

 

(Old, courtesy Universal Pictures)

That material, unfortunately, contains a lot of banal dialogue. Some is heavy-handed foreshadowing (“I can’t wait to hear your voice when you’re older”) and some is overly explanatory and analytical. And while some can be chalked up to character things, such as the ramblings of kids who find themselves suddenly in adult bodies or the therapist who always wants to “talk about what just happened,” most of it just seems to be silly filler that, frankly, insults the audience’s intelligence. We’re smart enough to figure stuff out on our own, give us the credit we deserve.

Cheesy dialogue aside, Old does make the most of its concept. The reveals of the characters’ accelerated aging are effective. Even though the viewer knows what’s happening, it’s still shocking. The phenomenon is most noticeable with the children, all of whom are played by a handful of actors to illustrate that they’re growing up, but even the adults wind up suffering the consequences of their aging. Once everyone realizes what is happening, the beach becomes a bit of a soap opera, with the kids dealing with growing up and the adults dealing with getting old. Some fates are telegraphed and predictable, while others are complete (and delightful) surprises. It’s chaos. Chaos Shyamalan style.

 

(Old, courtesy Universal Pictures)

I have a feeling that Old is one of those Shyamalan films that I’ll have to apologize to others for liking, but it also may benefit from rewatches in the same way that Ari Aster’s Midsommar does. So, just maybe, it will take a few years for people to appreciate it? Either way, Old is vintage M. Night Shyamalan, for better and worse.

Oh, and yes, there’s a big twist. Because, after all, it is vintage M. Night Shyamalan.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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