M. Night Shyamalan is an enigma of a filmmaker. He’s capable of making brilliant films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and utterly terrible offerings, i.e. Lady in the Water and The Happening. His latest film, Old, serves as an example of him at his best and worst.
The Cappas go to a luxury resort for a family vacation. The parents, Guy and Prisca (Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps) are about to separate but want to have one last family vacation before telling the kids.
The hotel manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) offers to take the Carras to a private bench. But on the beach the Carras along with some other guests experience something strange. Time moves more quickly on the beach which results in all of them ageing. They have to find a way to escape the beach before it’s too late.
After Shyamalan’s attempts at big-budget filmmaking (The Last Airbender and After Earth) were met with critical and commercial failure, he returned to making smaller-scale films.
The Visit and Split were seen as returns to form. Old was made on a modest budget of $18 million and set mostly on the beach. The driving force for the characters was to figure out what’s happening to them and find a way off the beach.
Shyamalan set up the stakes well. The characters weren’t just ageing, some of them had medical conditions which were accelerating and there seemed to be no way off the beach. The people can’t go back the way they came, and the sea is so rough that there was no way to swim to safety. There were moments of sheer brilliance like when the characters had to perform an operation and when a character had to give birth.
Shyamalan is a master of tension and it showed during these scenes. Shyamalan is known for his love of long steady-cam shots, and it adds to the scenes. This was really effective during the pregnancy scene where the camera focused more on the reaction and horror of the witnesses. The idea of this film character giving birth was horrific for a multitude of reasons but going into too much detail would lead to a spoiler.
Old does tap into a basic fear: ageing. For adults there was a double whammy because they saw their children age rapidly before them and their own bodies fail as the movie progresses. The children lament on all the milestones they missed and have to experience things like puberty whilst their minds stay the same.
Old did have an eerie feeling from the start because the hotel was seemingly too perfect. Like many of Shyamalan’s films there was a focus on domestic drama and how the supernatural element affects it. As stated, Guy and Prisca’s marriage was about to end, and they have to face their issues because of their rapid ageing. It was a marriage story in fast forward.
The big problem with Old was the dialogue. Dialogue has never been Shyamalan’s strong suit and he was repeating the mistakes he made with The Happening. Most of the dialogue was heavily expository because the characters were theorising what’s happening.
They explain what’s happening like how much things were ageing on the beach, the effects of trying to back through the tunnel has on people and the obstacles of trying to swim from the beach. It’s not just that the dialogue was bad, the characters didn’t speak or act anything close to real humans. It was like Shyamalan typed a few keywords into a computer and that wrote the dialogue for him.
Shyamalan became known as the twist filmmaker and Old was no exception. The twist in Old was really silly and it ended up overcomplicating a simple premise. The twist isn’t hard to understand but it does raise a lot of questions and felt unnecessary.
On a final note, the film had a character who was a rapper. His stage name was Mid-Size Sedan and that sounds like the worst name possible for a rapper.
Old had a great premise for a horror mystery and Shyamalan shows he has plenty of talent. But he gives in to his worst instinct as a writer and director.