M. Night Shyamalan has built a career on horror-mystery movies that don't always work, and that all seem to be chasing the lightning-in-a-bottle he found with his 1999 mega-hit, "The Sixth Sense." After a long string of clunkers, his 2016 "Split" got his fans excited that he was finally "back," but the follow-up, 2019's "Glass" all but shattered those high expectations.
With "Old," he effectively makes a feature-length Twilight Zone episode that isn't among his worst films (this is no "The Happening" or "After Earth"), but it is far from his best. And if "The Sixth Sense" or "Unbreakable" is too high a bar to set, even on its own, "Old" doesn't exactly revel in anything that feels new.
"Old" is actually based on a 2013 graphic novel by Pierre Oscar Levy (author) and Frederick Peeters (illustrator). A tropical island getaway resort finds an assortment of characters stuck on a beach, where..."odd"...things start to occur. It appears that everyone is aging at rapid speeds, and that there is no escaping.
Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are on holiday with their two young children, but they are debating when the right time is to tell the kids about a tumor that was recently found in mommy's abdomen. The Resort Manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) handpicks the family to enjoy an afternoon on a beautiful yet secluded beachfront, where they are driven and left. There they meet a doctor, Charles (Rufus Sewell), his young trophy wife, Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their small daughter, Kara, the doctor's mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), and their dog...there is also a male nurse, Jarin (Ken Leung) and his wife, Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who seems to suffer from some kind of epilepsy. One of the kids also notices a popular rapper, who goes by the name of Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), who is there alone and looks shook up, and who has constant nose bleeds. Something just feels...off.
It goes from eerie to downright scary when a dead body washes up behind one of the children. As they try to discover who this woman was and what might have happened to her, they realize they have bigger problems...the two small children are suddenly no longer small children, but teenagers (the teenage kids are played by Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff and Eliza Scanlen). Suddenly the dog dies, and Agnes is having chest pains. Things get worse for all involved except for Mid-Sized Sedan, who doesn't seem to be affected by the aging but who keeps bleeding.
You can tell by the subject matter why Shyamalan was attracted to this source material: This is right in his wheelhouse. He effectively adds to the unsettling nature of the story with weird low and high camera angles and some hand-held, first-person shots. There is also some good score work by composer Trevor Gureckis ("Voyagers," "The Goldfinch").
But throughout, "Old" reveals itself and is held-back as a Shyamalan film. The dialogue is at times stiff and/or corny. The characters are not at all fleshed out and only exist as sacrifices to the mysterious monster, which in this case, is time itself. While he does a good job of establishing the premise and the initial fear, it gets a bit silly when a watermelon-sized tumor is removed as easy as someone popping a pimple, or an unexpected pregnancy comes and goes. These touches don't quite pass the smell test, but without these unneeded diversions, you realize that there is not much else there.
Shyamalan's now-expected "twist" ending is not really all that fulfilling either, nor are some of the mysteries that are never explained (what indeed was going on with Mid-Sized Sedan?). Much of what does happen is not just unbelievable, but implausible as well, even within the film's own rules. It leaves "Old" feeling a bit unnerving to be sure, but a bit underwhelming too.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes.
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rufus Sewell, Vicky Krieps, Alex Wolff, Jen Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Thomasin McKenzie.
Screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan, based on the Graphic Novel "Sandcastle" by Pierre-Oscar Lévy & Frederick Peeters.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan ("Glass," "Split," "After Earth," "The Village," "Signs," "Unbreakable," "The Sixth Sense").
"Old" is in theaters on Friday, July 23rd, 2021.
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