Old is playing now in cinema’s nationwide
The legacy of M. Night Shyamalan is a curious one. There often seems to be little in-between for him as a director. After all, while we have The Sixth Sense and Signs, we also have Lady in the Water and Devil. And while it’s undeniable that Shyamalan always brings something creatively intriguing to the table, his propensity for grand-explainer twists often trips him up. Part of the fear of horror is the unexplainable, a fear of the unknown that feasts upon our rational consciousness. However, M. Night seems to oscillate between a frightening sense of the horrific and the titillating notion of the thriller. And that’s what appears to be happening in Old.
M. Night structures his latest endeavour with a fairly traditional set-up. Here we have a seemingly happy family led by risk analyst Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) enjoying a holiday in an idyllic resort. However, the cracks in their marriage quickly begin to reveal themselves. Here, Guy thinks about the future while, in contrast, Prisca struggles to envision one – their problems related to the perception of time and its impact on the human condition.
García Bernal pulls off a convincing performance as a husband weakened by emotional fatigue, hiding his crumbling marriage and unknown illness from his family. Meanwhile, Krieps’ Prisca is far less plausible, her performance just barely hitting the mark. The result of which never allows us to connect with her character as a woman trapped in an uninspired and slowly dwindling marriage.
When we finally get to the premise, things progress rapidly, alongside the ageing of our protagonists. And as our feet find themselves planted on mysterious sand, M. Night hits the gas and doesn’t stop. The result, a barrage of events and discoveries as we speed toward the actual meaty horror of this pulpy tale. Many will find this pacing too manic, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of visual and narrative information raining down upon them. And it’s fair to say this isn’t helped by their being ten trapped beach-goers to focus on.
Old would have benefitted from culling this large group earlier on, its sole focus the fractured family at its heart and the distortion of the family unit through the rapid ageing. Here, Emun Elliott and Embeth Davidtz are easily the most captivating of the entire cast, as they rapidly transform into their adult counterparts (Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie).
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Watching these pre-teens suddenly blossom into adults without the psychological and emotional growth accompanying it creates a distorted child-like innocence that feels remarkably off-kilter and unsettling. It’s evident Trent especially cannot comprehend the consequences of his actions, which lead to one of the film’s most disturbing sequences. This is undoubtedly where Old’s horror shines at its best. However, those expecting the body horror of rapid ageing are likely to find nothing but disappointment. At most, our troupe have crows-feet and wrinkled eyebrows, but we see nothing like the skeletal sunbather promised in the poster.
Adapted from the French graphic novel Sandcastle, the differences between the graphic novel and movie ultimately create Old’s downfall. Where Sandcastles’ focus is fixed on the impossible mystical nature of the beach, Old seems determined to give you all the answers you seek and more. In turn, this transforms what should have been a psychological discussion on mortality into a bizarre science-fiction B-Movie. Here, M. Night is unable to reign himself in, pushing his film too far.
What is engaging and compelling about this idyllic hellscape is the contradiction between paradise and purgatory. As though the inhabitants on the beach could’ve been anywhere, each being tortured by an unknown evil. However, the fun is not in the knowing; it’s in the speculating and theorising. But, unfortunately, M. Night Shyamalan can’t seem to shed his Old issues, and until he does, we may not see another Signs or The Village anytime soon.