With 2015’s The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan finally seemed to turn around a decade of directing flops. Arguably beginning with The Village, Shyamalan looked to have squandered the meteoric rise he’d taken with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Returning to the latter in Split, and anchored by a flawless performance from James McAvoy, Split kept up the renewed momentum from The Visit.
Sadly, Glass was another sad, return to the trash heap, failing to capitalise on the goodwill Split established. Now, Shyamalan returns with Old, a movie that feels exactly like the kind of movie the director should be making, while simultaneously being far more cynical and less hopeful than anything in his oeuvre.
Perhaps a commentary on the worst parts of human nature and perhaps a commentary on the way the best of intentions can lead to disaster. Adapted from the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, Old is a great return to form for Shyamalan and a haunting look at humanity that will linger long after the credits have rolled.
Set in an undisclosed tropical resort paradise, Old follows a family (above) on their holiday. Seemingly almost too good to be true, the resort offers something for everyone and soon the family is invited to visit a special, secluded beach only offered to select guests. While a little exposition-heavy in the opening third and quite slow to get started, Old quickly picks up the pace when the family arrives at the beach.
Accompanied by a second family — a wealthy doctor, his insta-model trophy wife, their young daughter and elderly grandmother — the group is disturbed when the corpse of a young woman is found floating in the water. After a third and final group arrives, a middle-aged married couple, Old sets about bombarding the viewer with shocking, anxiety-inducing set pieces one after another.
Shyamalan is at his best when keeping the suspense as taut as possible while keeping restrained with what he does and doesn’t show. Old’s most tense scenes work so well because so much is kept hidden from the viewer; something just off-screen or just out of view or obscured. In Old, he also makes frequent use of visual cues and staged shots to generate emotional context or subtext. Where the opening of the film is slow, plodding and exposition-heavy, it later moves at a brisk pace with the visuals providing much of the heavy lifting.
Once all of the beachgoers has arrived, it doesn’t take them long to figure out that on this beach, time moves much more quickly, or at least the effects of aging do. It appears that half an hour roughly equals one year of aging. The impacts are most noticeable in the children at first as the six-year-olds rapidly age. Soon the adults too are dealing with aging so quickly.
Prisca, reveals she has a tumour in her stomach, which, due to the contracted time of the beach, grows so rapidly it expands to the size of a melon. Other members of the group begin to suffer in their own way. Rufus Sewell’s doctor, Charles, exhibits odd mental ticks and even becomes randomly violent, lashing out at the group with a pocket knife.
In between the incredibly tense “action” sequences, including the removal of the tumour, are the best moments in Old. The human moments in which characters express remorse, regret, love and much more. These scenes provide the fuel that powers the remainder of Old and makes it so watchable in spite of its premise and occasional diversion into silliness.
As must be written into his contract at this point, Old has plenty of surprises and twists for viewers, though the ending is a superbly nihilistic and cynical commentary on humanity and human nature. It has a dark, hardened edge missing from much of the preceding film and gives Old a far different perspective on later watches.
While it may not be entirely satisfactory and the final scene is superfluous, Old will leave you with questions, not about the film or its plot, rather, questions about life, morality and good versus evil.
Old isn’t M. Night Shyalaman’s best film but it is his most considered. It tackles vast, difficult subject matter in a small, odd magical sci-fi manner. Be prepared to come away from Old with a heavy mood and lingering thoughts, however, it only makes the film even better.
Old is a modern-day suspenseful classic.
Old was reviewed from a screening provided by Universal Pictures.