Old is playing now in cinemas nationwide
The legacy of M. Night Shyamalan is a curious one. There seems to be little in-between for the director – we have The Sixth Sense and Signs, but we also have Lady in the Water and Devil. It’s undeniable that Shyamalan brings something creatively intriguing to the table, but his predilection for grand-explainer twists can trip him up. Part of the fear that comes from horror is the unexplainable, that fear of the unknown that feasts upon our rational consciousness. What M. Night seems to oscillate between is a frightening sense of the horrific and a titillating notion of the thriller. That’s certainly what appears to be happening in Old.
M. Night structures his latest endeavour with a traditional set-up – a seemingly happy family led by risk analyst Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) whisk themselves away to an idyllic resort, and the cracks quickly begin to reveal themselves. Shyamalan’s no stranger to expositionary dialogue, as Guy and Prisca trade barbs of their failing marriage and mysterious ailments that befall the pair of them. Guy’s supposedly always thinking about the future, whereas Prisca can’t seem to envision one – it’s funny how their problems are related to perceptions of time and its impact on the human condition, isn’t it?
García Bernal pulls off a convincing performance as a husband weakened by emotional fatigue – hiding a crumbling marriage and unknown illness will inevitably take a serious toll on you. Krieps’ Prisca on the other hand, is far less convincing – it feels like she’s just hitting her mark and speaking her lines plainly, rather than portraying a trapped woman in an uninspired dwindling marriage.
When we finally get to the premise, things develop quite rapidly, as do the ages of our protagonists. Once our feet are planted on the mysterious sand, M. Night hits the gas and does not let up. There’s a constant barrage of events and discoveries as we work ever faster to make our way to the actual meaty horror of this pulpy tale. Some may find the pacing to be a little too manic, potentially overwhelmed by the sheer amount of visual and narrative information. This isn’t helped by the ten trapped beach-goers despite their gradual dwindling.
It feels as though Old would’ve benefitted from a culling of this large group earlier on to focus on the fracturing of the family alongside the distortion of the dynamic through rapid ageing. Emun Elliott and Embeth Davidtz are easily the most captivating of the entire cast as they rapidly merge into their adult counterparts, Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie. Watching these pre-teens suddenly blossom into adults without the psychological and emotional growth to accompany it creates a distorted child-like innocence that feels remarkably 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 where the horror shines, as the body horror of rapid ageing is disappointingly limited. At most, our troupe have crows-feet and wrinkled eyebrows, nothing like the skeletal sunbather promised in the poster.
Old is adapted from the French graphic novel Sandcastles, and it’s where the two differ that Old meets its match. Whereas Sandcastles’ focused on the impossibility of understanding the mystical nature of the beach, Old seems determined to give you all the answers you seek and more. What could’ve been a psychological discussion on mortality turns into a bizarre science-fiction B-Movie. Here M. Night was unable to help himself, pushing it a step too far in the process – Old didn’t need more; if anything, it needed less. 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.
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