Say what you will about M. Night Shyamalan, you cannot deny that he’s still one of Hollywood’s premier ideas men, constantly coming up with original, off beat concepts that sound immediately compelling whether it’s a trilogy of naval gazing superpeople movies, an alien invasion twinned with a widower’s grief or a child’s ability to see the dead. However, it’s exactly how Shyamalan puts these ideas into practice that seems to be a problem these days and the level you end up embracing these individual examples of fantastical bollocks is usually directly connected to how much leeway you’re prepared to give the director with his latest bout of eccentric rambling.
This leads us to Old, the director’s latest mindwarping trip into high concept randomness that apparently leapt from his musings about how old his parents where getting.
While on holiday at a tropical scenic resort, soon-to-be divorced couple Guy and Prisca decide to take their incredibly precocious children Maddox and Trent to a secret, secluded part of the beach on the recommendation of their hotel manager.
However, the beach in question, while certainly beautiful, isn’t as secret or secluded as they first thought as they find that they are sharing the trip down with another family and arrive to find yet another, lone man chilling on a rock, but they finally settle down and make the most of this once in a lifetime experience.
Of course, “once in a lifetime” can mean many things, both good and bad, as sure enough weird, unsettling, M. Night Shyamalan type stuff starts to happen starting with young Trent discovering a drowned young woman in the nearby cove whom the stranger reveals headed out for a swim a while ago. The inevitable paranoia builds when the group finds that leaving the beach the way they came causes them to pass out only to wake and fine themselves back on the beach where they’ve staggered, but this is only the tip of the creepy-ass iceberg. After being joined by another couple who arrived late, everyone finally cottons onto the fact that for whatever reason, this secluded beach is making them all age at an accelerated rate and before you know it the children of the group have aged around ten years and the body of the drowned woman has entirely rotted away.
All attempts to escape prove futile and worse yet, the different members of the group who are all suffering from secret ailments find that said health issues, be it a calcium deficiency or psychological problems, are also acting at the accelerated rate of everything else. Soon the survivors find traumatic experiences happening horribly regularly and realise that if they don’t find a way out soon, they’ll all be dust by tomorrow lunch time in a horrifically literal example of life’s a beach and then you die…
I actually really wanted to like this one as I personally feel that Shyamalan gets a raw deal more often than not, but it’s hard to defend the guy when he takes an idea so primal and potent and then smothers the life out of it with leaden plotting and some truly awful dialogue. He’s pretty much pulled off the same trick here as he did with The Happening – itself a legitimately creepy premise beaten mercilessly to death with laughable characterization – by loading this time twisting beach with some truly insipid people who’s desperate attempt to grasp the fairly simple situation provides more unintentional giggles than empathy or tension.
As you cringe openly when these painfully rational characters attempt to explain away an age shift of a decade by suggesting a maybe a virus (?) or even mosquito bites (???), you simply lose any respect you may of had in them (not that much, honestly) and just settle down to see what random weirdness the movie is going to fling at you next. Even as the movie wades through a bizarre “teenage” pregnancy despite the mother technically being about six and massively telegraphed murder that still somehow feels unnecessary, you still can’t help but remember that even when the film was trying to be subtle in it’s first third, it still was as awkwardly heavy handed as Hellboy playing pat-a-cake.
It’s like Shyamalan has forgotten how to have people act in shit like this with clumsy foreshadowing like Maddox silently wishing she were older in order to hang with bigger kids or her mother claiming that she can’t wait to hear what her daughter’s singing voice will sound like in years to come (spoiler: not that great) giving way to all and any tension being systematically exterminated by the fact that his characters simply won’t shut the fuck up. If Old had maybe taken a more minimalist path and cut down the squawking debates to more Robert Eggers levels maybe things would have felt far more sinister, but Shyamalan’s need to talk things though just highlights how silly everything actually is and his trademark twist suffers from the same rambling over-exposition that sunk the final moments of his previous film, Glass. Even his camerawork, with it’s calm, methodical pans now simply looks like the film itself is bored with proceedings and is actively looking around for more interesting things to do like a bored teen.
And yet, every now and then the old magic surfaces. Later scenes involving an aging Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps finally hit the poignant note the director has been consistently missing while some truly startling bouts of body horror literally chill to the bone as we graphically see the major drawbacks of having blood poisoning or very brittle bones when your aging process has been jacked up to eleven.
Not a good as Shyamalan’s recent output was promising, and nowhere near as good as his earlier stuff; Old ends up being perversely watchable for all the wrong reasons as you remain riveted solely because you want to see exactly how preposterous the movie’s going to become, but like the hapless characters themselves, this movie starts to get old pretty fast.