Film Review: Old
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Blinding Edge Pictures
In Theaters 7.23
I believe that a critic must try to go into every movie with an open mind, and the good ones do. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have certain filmmakers who fill them with a sense of foreboding, and M. Night Shyamalan is at the top of that list for me. Even his early works were never great and from The Village onward, the emperor has proven time again that he has no clothes and no brain. Still, I tried very hard to go into Old with a sense of optimism, and that effort paid off handsomely until the moment the first character started speaking, at which point I had to give up.
Old follows married couple Guy (Gael García Bernal, Y Tu Mamá También, The Motorcycle Diaries) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread) as they take their two children, 11-year-old Maddox and six-year-old Trent, on a vacation to an island resort. Two other families join them and the group is driven out to the beach by an employee of the resort. It’s not long before an uneasy feeling starts to come over everyone, and they soon discover that the relaxing beach is causing them to age rapidly, reducing their entire lives into a single day with no escape.
Shyamalan adapts from the graphic novel The Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, and I certainly hope the book was better. We are constantly pummeled by excruciatingly bad dialogue filled with attempts at ironic foreshadowing and forced exposition that are so overplayed and obvious that it almost immediately begs the question “Is he trying to spoof himself?” Every insipid and audience-insulting moment is telegraphed so clumsily that by the time anything happens it feels like yesterday’s news.
Old is filled maddeningly over the top and hyperactive camera work, and for all of its deadly serious pretense, it has nothing whatsoever to say, and any possibilities for meaning or subtext are squandered in favor of repeated jumpscares. The only thing I can say for the twist is that it was far too stupid and convoluted to be predictable. When you’re exiting a film hearing multiple audience members mumbling disgustedly that this guy just needs to stop making movies, you have a problem, but at least I didn’t feel alone in being fed up with this smug, self-satisfied Glass-hole.
The cast is all talented enough, and Shyamalan’s strength has always been assembling solid ensembles and then ruining that by casting himself. That said, none of the characters work at all, and I found myself feeling sad for Bernal and Krieps. Thomasin Mackenzie (JoJo Rabbit, Leave No Trace) and Alex Wolff (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Pig) give everything they’ve got to playing Maddox and Trent, respectively, as kids whose bodies have jumped up to late teens and keep aging rapidly. The same is true of Eliza Scanlon (Little Women, Babyteeth) as Kara, the daughter of a couple played by Rufus Sewell (A Knight’s Tale, The Man in the High Castle) and Abbey Lee (Office Christmas Party, The Dark Tower). It doesn’t take long before the film’s novelty wears off and even that just becomes irritating and tedious. The makeup effects that portray the gradual aging throughout the day just winds up leaving everyone looking like movie stars caught without glamour make-up at best and at worst looking like teenagers performing Arsenic and Old Lace.
Old has moments that feel genuinely perverse, as the preoccupation with the children’s burgeoning sexuality feels exploitative and progressively creepier by the minute. There’s a vague sense that Shyamalan has finally had enough of living up to the narrow niche he carved for himself and that Old is his hate-filled punishment for the overzealous fans who encouraged him to pigeonhole himself into the complete joke that he has become. Old is a nauseating and offensive spectacle that left me feeling angry, assaulted and distraught. If this is the kind of garbage that we’re getting when we go out to theaters, then we haven’t been missing anything. –Patrick Gibbs