There are few filmmakers that are as divisive as M. Night Shyamalan. Whether his films are being acclaimed as brilliant, or ripped apart for being ridiculous, they’re rarely boring. Following the release of The Visit, Shyamalan has enjoyed something of a renaissance, at least in terms of his films’ reception.
Based on a 2010 graphic novel called “The Sandcastle”, Old keeps this positive trend going. For most of its runtime, it maintains a really tense mystery that’s quite unsettling. Shyamalan’s growth as a director, and as a person, is on full display as the movie explores the anxiety of aging. And to be honest, it hit a lot harder on a personal note being a parent myself…
In a break from his usual filming location (Philadelphia area), the movie opens with a family on vacation at a tropical resort as a van takes them to their hotel. The resort itself seems like heaven on Earth. However, when the family (along with a few other families) go to a private beach that’s quite secluded, everything changes.
The cast itself contains some familiar faces, including Gael García Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle), Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread), Rufus Sewell (Dark City), Alex Wolff (Hereditary), Thomas McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit), Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road), Nikki Amuka-Bird (The Omen 2006), Ken Leung (Lost, Saw), Eliza Scanlen (Little Women, Sharp Objects), Aaron Pierre (Krypton), Emun Elliot (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens), and Embeth Davidtz (Matilda, Army of Darkness).
Soon after they arrive, they realize that something is very wrong. A dead body that washes up on shore goes through years of decomposition in mere hours. The children go from being 6 years old, to 11, to teenagers, to young adults, and the parents notice wrinkles forming (and not just from all the stress).
The group of beachgoers (along with the audience) remain in the dark as to what’s behind this mystery, but they work together to try to escape before they inevitably die of old age in less than a day.
Everyone’s Doing It
What makes Old so unsettling is that it taps into the very real anxiety and existential dread that we’re all getting older. As much as we may try to stay in good shape, eat healthy, and keep youthful appearances, the fact is we are all going to age and eventually die. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
The only way we cope is to not actively think about it all the time, but Old places it front and center. When life’s inevitabilities are put sped up to mere hours, we realize just how scary is really is.
The same goes for the children getting older. Being the parent of two children under 3, it was absolutely heartbreaking to watch them age so fast as you wish you could slow the process down and cherish every minute.
But of course, this wouldn’t be an M. Night Shyamalan film without his usual tropes, but they’re mostly used well here. Granted, we do get some of his signature awkward dialogue and deadpan line deliveries that feel out of place. For example, a character’s spouse is having a grand mal seizure and he’s incredibly nonchalant about it.
For the most part however, the dramatic tension works to film’s advantage and comes off as disturbing instead of unintentionally hilarious. It gets its tone just right, and the entire time they’re on that beach, you can’t help but drop your jaw.
Old’s ending will no doubt spark debate and controversy on the internet. Everything was going very well and tense, until the final 15 minutes which goes a bit too far in explaining everything. The movie could have ended after the initial reveal, and that would have been enough.
However, after the reveal, it goes on for a few more scenes that really drag and feel unnecessary. It winds up being a similar epilogue exposition dump that Psycho used, and like that movie, it will definitely age poorly.
Ultimately though, it’s not the kind of ending that completely ruins everything that came before, and the movie itself started strong enough that it’s not too big an issue.
At its core, Old is a genuinely tense thriller that’s equal parts tragic and thrilling. And while its ending doesn’t quite stick the landing, the meat of the story is enough to keep you intrigued, and it belongs in the category of M. Night Shyamalan successes.