M. Night Shyamalan, the king of the twists, is (sorta) back with his latest effort, the existential suspense drama Old. Based on the “Sandcastle” graphic novel by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Lévy, Shyamalan’s story is all about one of society’s greatest fears: growing old.
The film opens with the seemingly happy Guy and Prisca Capa (Gael Garcia Bernal and Vickey Krieps), their 11-year-old daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old son Trent (Nolan River) arriving in a tropical paradise for a family vacation. They’re barely unpacked when the cracks in the parent’s relationship begin to surface with hushed whispers of separation and discussion of an illness plaguing Krieps’ character. But this vacation is one last chance at a warm and happy memory for their children, so differences are pushed aside as they are invited on an “exclusive” beach getaway with two other families, courtesy of their resort.
Dropped off at the beach by a driver (Shyamalan in one of his signature cameos), the group is directed to enter the secluded spot through a crevasse in the cliffs that surround the bay. After relaxing for a few hours, the group discovers that not only are they unable to leave due to some mysterious and unseen force holding them back, but they are beginning to age at a dangerously rapid pace.
Finished Day 29 of shooting @oldthemovie we finished at 3am on #Halloween it was the last day on this beautiful & haunting beach where crew have been prepping since March. I have never been more connected to a place other than my home. This is our moon with the real moon. pic.twitter.com/7cQ5Smcofd
— M. Night Shyamalan ⏳ (@MNightShyamalan) November 1, 2020
Running at just under two hours, Old’s story is mostly single note—how can they escape? As the hours age them by years, they will live a lifetime in a day if they remain.
That said, the central dilemma is compelling—do the characters attempt what might be a futile escape or do they accept the inevitable and live their final hours to the fullest? Sadly, despite those high stakes, the tension rarely reaches a boiling point, let alone a sustainable simmer. Filmed in a single location (in the Dominican Republic) during the height of the pandemic, Shyamalan struggles with ways to keep his story interesting. In a strange creative choice, he frequently and randomly pans and shifts the camera, distracting from the action at hand. And then, when he delays the big reveal of how much the children have aged, he waits to a point where any earned shock has long worn off.
But was there anything to be surprised about in the first place? There are so many heavy-handed references to aging, growing old and “getting big” before the group reaches the beach, that it’s not so much of a clever clue à la The Sixth Sense, but is more akin to being elbowed repeatedly as you’re told not only is that the punchline but you need to laugh right here, right now.
Shyamalan has long shunned the idea that his movies are “horror” and with Old, he tries to avoid that label again—aiming more for an unsettling vibe that would feel right at home in The Twilight Zone. Unfortunately, there just seems to be something missing in the final product.
Old arrives in theatres on July 23.
Everyday on the set I am striving to hit a very specific creative note. Take a huge chance and try to do something that only these actors and crew members could do this one time. Even if we all got together again in the future we couldn’t replicate it. Day 20 @oldthemovie pic.twitter.com/CsZ4FDrqIN
— M. Night Shyamalan ⏳ (@MNightShyamalan) October 21, 2020