It seems like M. Night Shyamalan is as much of a wild card filmmaker as any, these days. His movies could just as easily turn out to be some of the worst reviewed of the year as opposed to the best. The same director who gave us The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable also hoisted After Earth, The Happening, Lady in the Water, and The Last Airbender upon the world. So, a new Shyamalan film could always go either way. Split and Glass are perfect examples of how inconsistent he is. So, while his latest work, Old, isn’t a full return to form, it at least avoids some of the pitfalls that sink his lesser flicks.
Old showcases some of the better instincts of Shyamalan, alongside some of his worst. Your heart will race and your pulse will pound, but your eyes will most certainly roll as well. A strong premise and a very effective middle act make up for tough to swallow first and third ones. Admittedly, Shyamalan comes up with a decently satisfying ending, though there’s plenty of logic gaps along the way.
Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Priska (Vicky Krieps) have taken their six year old son Trent (Nolan River) and eleven year old daughter Maddux (Alexa Swinton) on what seems to be a dream vacation. The resort is beautiful, all their needs are being met, and the hotel manager has just clued them in to a secluded beach. Decamping for the location with another family, the quartet discover something beautiful. However, it also appears to be a trap. No sooner do they all arrive than they find a dead body, alongside a shocked man (Aaron Pierre). Their cellphones don’t work, so they can’t call the driver to pick them up. Worse, when they try to leave, they pass out. They’re stuck. Worse still, they all appear to be rapidly aging.
In a matter of hours, Trent (now played by Alex Wolff) and Maddux (now played by Thomasin McKenzie) are grown up. The adults too are aging, with mortality a factor for some. With seemingly no way off the beach and the clock ticking, as well as a body count rising, the families must figure out what’s going on. If they can’t, within a day, they’ll all have grown old and died. The less said about what happens after the set up, the better, in case you see it, but it’s occasionally satisfying and occasionally frustrating.
The cast is hit or miss here. Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps do the heavy lifting, with the latter managing to stand out. Likewise, Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff have really difficult roles, having to aptly portray children. They all make it work, even with Old’s screenplay lets them down. On the other hand, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abbey Lee, Ken Leung, Aaron Pierre, Eliza Scanlen, and Rufus Sewell (the other stranded vacationers on the beach) are mostly just disposable secondary characters, exposition dumping grounds, or both. Rounding out the cast are Embeth Davidtz, Francesca Eastwood, Gustaf Hammarsten, and more.
Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan shows off his highs and lows here. The tension brought out by Shyamalan is high quality, wringing as much dread out of the premise as possible. Then, the ending avoids an overt twist, while still being something decidedly in Shyamalan’s wheelhouse. At the same time, this is, at least during some sections, some of his worst writing. Plus, he somehow coaxes the worst cinematography possible from DP Mike Gioulakis. The choices, in regards to the camerawork in Old, is mindbogglingly bad. You’ll understand if/when you see it.
Old is likely to appeal to M. Night Shyamalan more so than most. If you generally like his work, you’ll recognize a lot of what pleases you here. If you find his films lacking, that will again be the case here. Old is very much a Shyamalan movie, with all that comes with it. For yours truly, it was one of his better endeavors of late, but it’s still a middle of the road flick that leaves you wishing it had done more.