Few directors are quite as polarizing as M Night Shyamalan. Truth be told, Shyamalan may never make a movie as good as The Sixth Sense. And he’s made some good movies. Unbreakable showed how just how far outside the mold superhero movies could be long before Joker. Both Signs and The Village were effectively creepy movies right up until their unnecessary twists. But Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, and The Happening derailed the director’s career. Then The Visit marked a welcome return to form for Shyamalan followed by Split. Now it looks like Shyamalan is back to polarizing audiences and critics. After Glass drew a lukewarm response, Shyamalan’s Old has once again split audiences and critics down the middle.
Before they announce their plans to divorce, Guy and Prisca bring their two young children away on a beach resort vacation. With tensions simmering, the couple take up the resort manager’s offer to spend an afternoon on a more secluded piece of beach. Along with several other guests, the family enjoys a beautiful afternoon. But following a shocking tragedy, the resort guests discover they can’t leave the beach. And for every 30 minutes that passes, they age by one year. If they can’t find a way off the beach no one will live past the day.
Old Boasts a Unique Premise, But One That’s Not Always Gripping
Based on Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel Sandcastle, M Night Shyamalan’s Old has a fantastic premise. Just based on its concept alone, Old proves to a very watchable, if not messy, movie. Regardless of the largely unexplained pseudo-science underlying the premise, Old’s twist isn’t even as contrived as some of Shyamalan’s past efforts at outdoing himself. The movie’s piecemeal unveiling of the island’s impact on time and aging creates a fair amount of suspense. Moreover, Shyamaln finds some interesting – and often disturbing – ways to visualize this rapid aging process. There’s some surprisingly icky body horror in Old. An impromptu surgery to remove a rapidly growing tumor as the incision almost instantly heals should make audiences squirm.
…one can’t help but feel that Shyamalan misses the boat on the concept’s deeper themes.
Nonetheless, Shyamalan often seems confused about how he wants to deliver Old’s unique premise. While there’s early suspense and a few tense moments, too often, Old feels tonally wild. In addition, one can’t help but feel that Shyamalan misses the boat on the concept’s deeper themes. With characters facing their imminent mortality – and children seeing key life milestones slip away in hours – Old never feels like it explores the emotional toll. And significant logical lapses plague Old. Could so many people disappear after visiting the same resort without someone noticing? The island only physically ages peoples, so why would a six-year behave and think like an adult? Consistent with past Shyamalan thrillers, Old feels like a premise better-suited for an anthology television series rather than a feature-length movie.
Shyamalan’s Clunky Dialogue Gets Old Fast
Like the rest of the movie, Old’s cast and the performances are a chaotic collection of contradictions. There’s some good, reliable performers here. Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Embeth Davidtz, Ken Leung (Saw), and Alex Wolf (Hereditary) – they’re all capable actors who have delivered excellent performances in the past. None of them come off well here. In fact, the performances often feel widely off the mark. Whether they’re a bit stilted or too broad, everyone comes off awkward. Bernal, Krieps, and Wolf, for instance, seem wooden as they force out their dialogue. Conversely, Sewell and Abbey Lee feel too unhinged next to their castmates.
No one talks like the characters in Old.
Much of the problem can be likely be attributed to Shyamalan’s screenplay. Few actors could escape unscathed reciting some of Old’s dialogue. The big problem seems to be that the dialogue doesn’t feel like it was intended to flesh out characters and their personalities. Instead, Shyamalan pens some clunkers designed to advance the plot or foreshadow twists. No one talks like the characters in Old. The number of times characters refer to ‘getting old’ or instructing children that ‘when they’re older’ is almost laughable. And here is the recurring problem with Old. It’s a serious thriller with a great hook that too often feels like it wants to not take itself seriously.
Old a Messy, If not, Watchable Thriller
If forced to choose between calling Old a “good movie” or a “bad movie”, one might likely lean towards “bad”. Simply, M Night Shyamalan’s Old is a mess. Something seems to work against any good thing one might note about this thriller. Great cast, odd performances delivering clunky dialogue. Excellent cinematography, odd camera placement. Great premise, untapped themes and odd ending. There’s too many good things in Old to dismiss it outright. You’ll watch it to the end just to see what happens. But the flaws are too plentiful to ignore. At this point in his career, we may have to accept that Shyamalan doesn’t have another The Sixth Sense in him – he’s just a messy filmmaker.