Don’t get me wrong, I admire M. Night Shyamalan for the guiding spirit of his filmography. It doesn’t rely on sequels, focuses on stories with no IP, and generally follows the Hitchcock model of everyday humans caught up in challenging situations. He burst onto the scene with his Oscar-nominated The Sixth Sense, followed in quick succession by hits Signs and Unbreakable. But since then, the track record has been spotty.
His latest, Old, held some promise for me when I heard the premise: a group of strangers who age rapidly in the course of one day on a deserted stretch of beach. Unfortunately, in execution, Shyamalan’s screenplay, based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, is worthy of no more really than a half-hour Twilight Zone. Intriguing but stretched thin over 108 minutes, Old lives up to its title by getting old even faster than its characters do.
The main story is wrapped around a family arriving at a ritzy beach resort for a vacation before they tell the kids they have decided to separate. Gael Garcia Bernal plays the dad, Guy, and Vicki Krieps is his wife, Prisca. We are introduced as well to their very young kids, Maddox (initially played by Alexa Swinton) and Trent (first played by Nolan River). They are enticed by the hotel manager to do a day trip to what he describes as a splendid secluded and gorgeously picturesque beach, and thus they are dropped off along with a handful of other guests by the hotel driver (Shyamalan) who gives them instructions on how to get all the way down to the bottom of the cliff and onto the promised oceanside slice of heaven before he quickly takes off, presumably back to the hotel.
Before long though, young Trent discovers the dead body of a woman, and nervousness among the group settles in. That group also includes a family including Charles (Rufus Sewell), a surgeon (conveniently, as Shyamalan invents new incidents); his troubled trophy wife Chrystal (Abby Lee); and their daughter Kara (first Kylie Begley and eventually played at 15 by Eliza Scanlen); plus grandma Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) and her beloved dachshund Gustav. A rapper Shyamalan has ludicrously named Mid Size Sedan (Aaron Pierre) is also there, mysteriously bleeding from the nose and swearing he wasn’t responsible for the death of the young woman whose corpse was discovered. Soon a new couple arrives in nurse Jarin (Ken Leung) and his wife Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), a psychologist, who almost instantly start to freak out upon learning of the corpse.
In no time weirder stuff happens, and is particularly noticeable when the kids leap into their teen years, with Alex Wolff taking on Trent’s role, and Thomasin McKenzie portraying the ever-growing Maddox. Prisca has a medical emergency that Charles solves when he cuts her open and removes a huge tumor. Simple, right? But oh my, what has been going on with hormonally charged Trent and Kara, who found love and now she is pregnant? She soon delivers the baby who can’t survive in this situation. Remember folks, this whole group was just dropped off mere hours ago. Lots more happens until the real twists for which the director is famed start coming. Anyone up for a swim in the coral reef?
Some of this is so dumb I just can’t even deal. For some reason Charles, in between tumor surgeries and baby deliveries, keeps asking the question about which movie starred Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. Around the third time he blurts this out, I started to shout the answer The Missouri Breaks just to put him out of his misery. Patricia also keeps trying to get the group, increasingly frightened and concerned about what is happening to them, to gather and sort out their thoughts on it all. Isn’t that what a psychologist would do when you are all aging one year each half hour? As movie conventions go, Old basically succumbs to the same kinds of conflicts that always happen when a group of strangers are thrust into a situation careening out of their control. Just another day at the beach, folks.
Like all of Shyamalan’s work you will either go with it or you won’t. I don’t expect this one to age very well, and some of it is just laughably bad. At the very least, as a summertime theatrical release, the stunning location (it was shot at Playa El Valle in the Dominican Republic ) should give audiences a nice respite from the heat.
Producers are Marc Bienstock, Ashwin Rajan and Shyamalan. Universal releases it in theaters Friday.
Check out my video review above with scenes from the movie. Do you plan to see Old? Let us know what you think.
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