Review: ‘Old’

M. Night Shyamalan Returns With A Beach Vacation From Hell

M. Night Shyamalan is back with his newest horror Old. Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) want to get away from the stresses of life. Experiencing a rough patch in their marriage and frightening medical diagnosis, they decide a tropical vacation would be perfect. They take their two children, six-year-old Trent (Nolan River) and eleven-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton), and head to a beautiful resort. From the moment they step off the private shuttle, the resort is perfectly catered to their every need. This over-the-top hospitality does raise some eyebrows as Guy questions where Prisca found the resort – online, of course. The family is soon approached by a hotel representative who tells them about a private beach excursion on a nature preserve that will be the experience of a lifetime – one that they surely cannot pass up.

Joining them are Charles (Rufus Sewell), a surgeon, and his young trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), Charles’ mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), and Charles and Chrystal’s daughter Kara (Mikaya Fisher), as well as their dog. Upon arriving at the beach, they see a famous rapper, Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), seemingly in a daze. Almost immediately things seem off. A body floats to the beach and Charles suspects Sedan of foul play. The kids find old items from prior hotel guests buried in the sand. A final couple, Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), join before the horrors really unfold. Trent (Alex Wolff), Maddox (Thomasin McKenzie), and Kara (Eliza Scanlen) return from playing on the other end of the beach having aged considerably in a matter of hours. The guests realize that thirty minutes on the beach equates to a year of aging, and that their days – or hours – are numbered.

Old is inspired by the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. After reading the graphic novel, Shyamalan knew he had to make an adaptation and began working on the screenplay. Shyamalan pays homage to the graphic novel in the film – it is subtle, but a great touch. Shyamalan typically films around Philadelphia, where he grew up, and Old is clearly a departure from his roots. Prisca’s family is from Philadelphia and the film makes note of that, so he does manage to give a Philly shoutout.

With two well received films in 2015’s The Visit and 2016’s Split many had hopes that Shyamalan was returning to his late 90’s and early 2000’s form. After The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs Shyamalan had solidified himself as a can’t miss director for fans of suspense. He was a powerful filmmaker who kept you on the edge of your seat and was known for twist endings. Old does have elements that are reminiscent of classic Shyamalan. The building dread, unique camera angels, deadly silence coupled with eerie melodies, and subtle moments of humor are familiar.

Old does have numerous issues, however. Even within the ‘rules’ of the beach, there are things that occur leaving the audience scratching their heads. The acting is nothing to write home about. No performance is terrible, but nothing stands out as well. Many of the characters are underdeveloped – which, given the limited runtime of the film as well as the characters’ lives, is understandable. This still leads to a disconnect with certain characters as the film progresses. There are aspects of the script which do not sound natural and seem forced. From the jump, Prisca mentions time and aging – clearly a harbinger of things to come. The dialogue stood out like a sore thumb. It did not flow at all and felt like training wheels for the audience. Shyamalan has a knack for subtly in his films and that scene was a far cry from it.

It is easy to envision Old being a devisive film. Some gravitating towards the intensity and accepting of the, at times, absurd while the other side laughs and gawks at what they are watching, unable to suspend their disbelief. Whichever side you fall on, one thing is clear, Shyamalan is still able to keep the audience entertained. Old does not drag during its runtime, and the film is full of nonstop tension which is downright frantic at times. It seems the moment the audience can get their heartrate down a bit, a new horror is waiting. Old had a great deal of potential and seemed to be right up Shyamalan’s alley. Unfortunately, its deficiencies hold it back from being one of his greats. That being said, Old is still an entertaining and heart-pounding film worthy of a watch.

Old opens in theaters on July 23rd.