Director M. Night Shyamalan built his career around twists. It’s really his calling card, and for his latest film, Old, he’s not being coy with the biggest twist; he’s just not fully embracing it, either.
Old drops most of the story curveball right in the title, and on the poster, not to mention the trailer. In fact, the trailer spells out most of the major plot points, with just a bit better editing.
Based on the graphic novel, Sandcastle, by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, Old stars Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps as Guy and Prisca, a couple on vacation with their kids, Trent and Maddox.
When we first meet Trent and Maddox, they’re played by Nolan River and Alexa Swinton, and they’re both fantastic. They help ground these characters on what feels like a reluctant vacation, and they sell the idea of their whole relationship.
We learn that Guy and Prisca are having marital problems, among other things, and the kids are stuck in the middle.
However, when they get a chance to explore a nearby beach, the family jumps at the chance, and that’s of course where the twist kicks in.
Joining the family on the beach are a wild mix of characters. There’s rapper Mid-Sized Sedan, played by scene stealer Aaron Pierre. We meet a doctor and his family, played by Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Kathleen Chalfant, and Kyle Bailey. And there’s a nurse and his wife, played by Ken Leung and Nikki Amuka-Bird.
Chaotic, sloppy, and with some dialogue that should be a criminal offence because it’s so silly, Old leaps into the film’s plot with a glee that’s often visceral and fascinating, and yet the direction just doesn’t hold up. Worse, the film cuts away when it should stay close, and wanders off when it’s grinding into the best moments.
It feels next to impossible to review this film without giving a little bit away, so you can stop here if you really don’t want to know any more. To summarize though, Old is a short film trying to fill a 1 hour and 49 minute runtime, and it fails frequently.
If you’re still with me, next a dead body shows up, and then they realize that they need to get off the beach because they’re aging years in a few hours, but they can’t get beyond the rocks that circle the beach. In fact, there’s a whole radius around the area that basically knocks them out when they try to leave.
This sets off all kinds of problems. The oldest woman and her dog die next, and the trio of kids turn into teenagers, introducing new actors, including Alex Wolff, Emun Elliott, Thomasin McKenzie, Embeth Davidtz, and Eliza Scanlen.
However, there’s very little continuity with the characters once the aging really starts. It’s impossible to identify with the teenage kids, especially at first, and the story doesn’t care how you feel about them.
Thrillers rarely spend a lot of time with character development once the action kicks in, but the best ones are at least exciting then. Old can be clever, and it will stick with you in weird ways, but more weird than exciting, and it answers questions that don’t need answering. The film is also obvious, making it easy to guess what’s going to happen next.
Where Old suffers in the middle, the end is at least gratifying and offers a sense of closure. There is a bit of a twist here, but it doesn’t make up for the films other, many faults.
Throughout the film, Bernal and Krieps could have had more to work with, but they hold their own in this strange story. They pull together scenes that otherwise would have flopped.
The younger cast, unfortunately, don’t get as much to work with, and Shyamalan apparently didn’t know what to do with them. There are exceptions, but Mackenzie and Wolff get their best scenes closer to the end, for a few reasons.
With some trimming, and maybe an R rating instead of PG-13, Old could have been a great film. The Final Destination-esque deaths in the film sometimes end up being goofy, and in one case, not even that interesting, and the special effects at times are downright laughable.
I hope Shyamalan can adapt from here, because Old has glimmers of greatness, too. We don’t necessarily need to know why, how, or even where this beach exists, we just need to see the stories that it creates. I’d love to see him focused on a film with mood and incredible characters, and less on the twists.
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