Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Eliza Scanlen, Aaron Pierre, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliott
Run Time: 108 mins
Old is a new original psychological horror by high concept director M. Night Shyamalan, a director most famous for his signature twists and a figure who has had quite the varied career. After a slump of each film being worse than his last starting with Lady In The Water and The Happening, then resulting in the one-two career suicide of The Last Airbender and After Earth, Shyamalan’s career is steadily back on the rise. When he was in director’s jail, Shyamalan teamed with Blumhouse to film a micro-budget horror called The Visit, which opened to good reviews. He has since directed Split and Glass, completing a trilogy that started with Unbreakable. Split received strong reviews whereas the reception to Glass was decidedly mixed, although I regard it to be his best work.
Inspired by a Swiss graphic novel called Sandcastle, Shyamalan adapts and expands the story to suit his own creative mind. The ever reliable Gael García Bernal plays Guy, who along with his wife, Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and two young children, Trent and Maddox (Alexa Swinton and Nolan River) vacation to a sun-drenched, tropical resort. The children do not know that this is to be their last family holiday as the parents plan on divorcing, as Prisca has been engaged in an affair and is also facing some worrying health problems. The seemingly idyllic haven seems too good to be true from the moment they arrive. The family are welcomed by the hotel manager and his staff with personalised cocktails made to their taste preferences that they specified on their booking form. The resort manager takes a liking to the family and offers them a day on a private, hidden beach to have to themselves. When they embark on the minivan to be transported to the beach, the exclusive nature of the trip is tarnished, as they are joined by another family consisting of an intense British Doctor (Rufus Sewell), his model but hypocalcemic wife (Abbey Lee) his ageing mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalafant) and young daughter, Kara (Kyle Bailey).
The minivan driver (Shyamalan in a cameo role) drops them off near the beach and hands them an exceedingly large hamper of food before departing, informing them to call him when they are ready to leave. Once they step foot on the beach, after negotiating their way through a jungle and canyon to reach their private slice of paradise. However, all is quickly not as it seems once a dead body washes up on the shore and everyone on the beach starts to age at breakneck speed, one of the characters deducing that they are ageing a year every half an hour.
Old is another bonkers concept by the auteur Shyamalan, and tonally is somewhere between Get Out and The Beach, infused with The Twilight Zone. It is a frequently profound and is an intense, nightmarish exploration into the themes of life and maturation. A scene between two old characters facing worsening eyesight and deafness is beautiful, as their memories are worsening and losing the concept of space and time. Shyamalan deftly balances these profound moments with freakish body horror and violence, one sequence in particular involving a knife is particularly harrowing and well shot. That said, the film could have benefitted from portraying more of these bloody images rather than most of the violence being portrayed off-screen, although the on-screen horror that Shyamalan decides to portray is enough to earn the film a 15 age rating.
Shyamalan has received a fair amount of flack for his stilted scripts, and although there are awkward moments in the script here and characters conversing unnaturally, it is fitting for the horrific scenario that they are placed in, their brains and actions not able to cope with their rapid ageing. The performances, in turn, are stilted to begin with but once the horrors of the beach unfold, there is considerably more energy. Gael García Bernal and Rufus Sewell make the strongest impression, Bernal’s father initially seeming overly tight-lipped but he instills more emotion as the film progresses and Sewell’s anxious but controlling Doctor has more substance than meets the eye. Ken Leung offers perhaps a career best performance as a calm and logical nurse, who is married to his intelligent but epileptic wife (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who the two families encounter later on the beach.
Old is beautifully shot by Mike Gioulakis, who has collaborated with Shyamalan on his last three films. His photography portrays the luscious beach as an imposing figure and a character point-of-view in the film’s second half of worsening eyesight is a genius move. Trevor Gureckis’ score is foreboding and haunting, seemingly offering only despair to the characters situation. Of course, there is a signature, late twist to Old as it wouldn’t be a Shyamalan film without one. The twist is satisfying and as is the case with his best work, forces one to view the film in a different light.
Old is a strong and unapologetic effort from Shyamalan and is further evidence of his career resurrection, if you get on board with the narrative. Reviews for this film have proven polarised but one must always commend a director for being ambitious and not trying to pander to the crowd. Old is one of Shyamalan’s best works and I cannot wait to rewatch it again and pick up on the smaller details that offer breadcrumbs to the film’s twist.