M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old” isn’t exactly subtle regarding the film’s plot about aging. From the start, a mother tells her youngest son to appreciate the time we have and that she cannot wait to hear her daughter sing when she gets older. The three, along with their father, are on their way to some fancy resort in the tropics. Of course, nothing is as it seems with any Shyamalan movie. And if there is anything we’ve learned, it’s that the director can make wildly divisive movies with audiences either loving it or hating it. For “Old,” it’s the latter as it’s a well-paced thriller that slowly builds upon its scares and keeps the twists coming. And even with its rushed ending, it is something that will leave you bent out of shape in the best way possible.
The film centers on a family traveling to a resort located on a tropical beach. This resort has everything for them, drinks customized to their preferences, infinity pools, surfing lessons, and swanky rooms. It is literally the picture of paradise. But behind all of that is a family that is suffering. Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and her husband Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) are on the verge of separating because the former is too dedicated to her museum curating job. The latter is too busy being an actuary looking to far ahead into the future. These heated arguments are having an affect on their kids Trent (Nolan River), a six-year-old, and Maddox (Alexa Swinton), an 11-year-old. But the family matriarch and patriarch try to put on their best face whenever they are with the kids. So when the resort offers to take them to a secluded beach, they accept, hoping that they can make their final memories together as a family last.
Their family time is somewhat disrupted when another, Charles (Rufus Sewell), his much younger and very spoiled wife Chrystal, (Abbey Lee), and their six-year-old daughter Kara (Kyle Bailey) join them.
Before any of them head out, their driver (Shyamalan) asks them if they’ve left any forms of identification back in their hotel room safes. None of the adults give it a second thought as they believe its just a part of the accommodations. But things get a little more suspicious as the driver declines to help take their beachside lunch to the shore and gives an excuse not to enter it. He then tells them he will pick them up if they call or at five in the afternoon.
So after they walk through the jungle terrain and narrow caverns, they see a beautiful and quiet beach. No one else is around besides the two families. And a rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) who is quietly keeping to himself against the face of the mountain. But, again, no one makes anything of it, even if he has a bloody nose. And the party continues to grow when Jarin (Ken Leung) and his wife Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) join them.
With all of the pieces set in place, it gives a chance for Shaymalan to let loose and has that mind-bending, twisted fun on these unfortunate people. Of course, one wouldn’t expect such a beautiful beach to hide a dark secret, especially when Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography captures the beauty of a sun-soaked beach, crystal blue waters, and dark carvans. And all of that works well in unison with the sound design, which plays a role later on the film, and Trevor Gureckis’ ominous music setting audiences up for the characters’ fates.
Without getting into spoilers, its no accident that the people are on the beach together. But none make anything of it because they are distracted by the mysterious body that washed up ashore. While everyone is pointing the finger at Mid-Sized Sedan, no one notices the changes happening with their kids. In fact, most think its because the swim trunks are too small. But as time passes and the family tries to figure out what happened to the young woman, they notice that their kids have rapidly aged.
And it isn’t just them but everything else on the beach. Metal items are rusting, family pets are dying, and soon, the adults realize they are getting older as well. And despite their best efforts, they are unable to leave the beach because they get extreme headaches and blackout. Then they find themselves back on the beach. And swimming isn’t an option either because of the harsh currents and other unknown factors like the distance between the beach and another shore.
And its that unknown of what’s coming that had me guessing. I realize that people’s milage on anything regarding Shyamalan’s work may vary, but going into something like this cold without watching any of the trailers and keeping expectations in check will help make watching the film that much more engaging and fun. As the film has us focusing on one thing, we are completely forgetting to what is happening off-camera, and how time is affecting everything on the beach. And I mean everything.
Shyamalan uses the characters’ confusion and some other unsettling twists as a mere distraction to keep the film moving nicely. It helps with making those unexpecting scares and surprises feel organic rather than something you anticipate. There are inevitable deaths – this is a beach that rapidly ages you after all -, unexpected pregnancies and other things that happen to the body when it ages. And that can yield for some crafty yet very terrifying twists that will hopefully have you jumping out of your seat.
Of course, since this is a Shyamalan film, there is going to be a bigger twist that comes as an even bigger shock than any of the surprises you experienced beforehand. That being said, “Old” spends too much time lamenting about it, especially since we see how these characters realized what’s going on and how it all came to be. Add to that the rushed ending makes “Old” manic and uneven for the characters’ closure.
And when it comes to the more technical aspects of the film, that can be a bit perplexing, especially with his camera shot selections. For one thing, the bigger more emotional conversations take place off camera with us having to stare at the face of a rock. It’s unclear if this is keep us from see the aging process or if it was meant to mess with our heads. But that is moot as the technical positives outweigh those flaws.
The sound work in this is exceptionally well done as it not only factors into our sense of hearing now but also in the future. Again, it will become clear to you if you watch the film, especially in a theater with Dolby surround sound.
Shyamalan’s “Old” may not be perfect, but it is far from being something on the level of very bad. Of course, that is all subjective considering how we all feel about his works. That being said, “Old” is something worth watching because it feels like it is on the same level as “The Happening” or “The Visit” where he lays out everything for you in the exposition but it still comes at a surprise.