As a filmmaker paving his career in the theatre of the strange and embracing it fully, M Night Shyamalan returns with his latest supernatural thriller Old. This time he tests his screenwriting ability with a plot more focused and centralised on one location than ever before. The writer and director of blockbuster smash hits such as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Split has built a reputation for being severely hit-and-miss throughout his career, spanning over three decades. This has made his work incredibly difficult to predict, especially before viewers have fully immersed themselves into his cinematic universe.
Shyamalan will be hoping that his newest post-pandemic release will fall on the side of success and the bumper cast he has recruited certainly screams capability and talent. The story follows the turbulent events endured by a family when they are taken to a secluded beach while on a tropical holiday. Shortly after arriving, a dead body washes up on the shore, and Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) begin to notice small changes in the appearances of their children. Before too long, six-year-old Trent (Nolan River/Luca Faustino Rodriguez/Alex Wolff/Emun Elliot) is now 15 and Maddox (Alexa Swinton/Thomasin McKenzie/Embeth Davidtz) has also matured several years. Suddenly, all the tourists begin to realise they are aging rapidly and must find a way to escape before clock on their lives runs out.
There simply isn’t time for anything in this feature and that premise is made abundantly clear through the constant flood of events rolling through the movie’s 108-minute run time, almost like an incoming tide that never halts. The possibilities are endless when you have a scenario such as this, and the director attempts to squeeze every significant life moment into a single day, including pregnancy, birth, death and all of the ailments that lead up to it. By doing so, the film turns into a cluster of turmoil that admittedly does sweep the viewer away, but almost dissipates any degree of suspense or fear felt in the process. It can be argued, however, that the blame for this may not lie entirely at Shyamalan’s door as Old is an adaptation of the 2010 Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Levy graphic novel Sandcastle, but judging by the final piece, the director has certainly made most of this work his own.
The dialogue is exceptionally on-the-nose, despite the heroic efforts of McKenzie and Wolff, who bring an immense level of heart to their “child stuck in adult body” characters. Ultimately, it is the Jackson Pollock-esque screenwriting that makes the whole story so nonplussed and bland, with little for the audience to hold on to. The question of “why?” rings unanswered for far too long and even when it does finally arrive, the twist is weak by Shyamalan’s standards.
There are a few tender moments particularly between the parents, as they speedily progress into old age, but all in all Old is just a little bit silly. It is not supernatural enough, not thrilling enough and lacks much of a sense of peril, but as always with the famed director’s films, Old will no doubt make a killing at the box office – like many of his other feebler releases. The cherry cola of films: an acquired taste that is never anyone’s favourite, but for some reason makes a mountain of money.
Old is released nationwide on 23rd July 2021.
Watch the trailer for Old here: