Shyamalan isn’t much for subtlety, but even his naysayers would have to admit that he’s got style.
Old tells the story of a strange beach. Guy Cappa (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his wife, Prisca (Vicki Krieps), are taking their children Trent (Emun Elliot and Alex Wolff) and Maddox (Embeth Davidtz and Thomasin McKenzie) on vacation to a remote island. The resort manager suggests an exclusive trip to a private beach on the other side of the island, where they meet Dr. Charles (Rufus Sewell) and his trophy wife, Chrystal (Abbey Lee), alongside their daughter Kara (Kyle Bailey and Eliza Scanlen). They are joined by Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia Carmichael (Nikki Amuka-Bird). When the children begin aging rapidly and the adults begin developing wrinkles, the beach is revealed to be more of a trap than a remote paradise.
M. Night Shyamalan has made a lot of films with his kids in mind. He veered off the path with Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender, hoping to make movies they’d enjoy and pissing off the entire world, but in recent years he’s wanted to either scare them (The Visit) or help them connect with their legacy (Split, Glass). Now we’ve been gifted Old, which is a film that sees Shyamalan grappling with the fact that his kids are now adults and his fear that it all went too fast. His brand of blunt hokum isn’t for everyone, but those attuned to his style will find that this is his best film since The Village (a highly underrated film, as well as my personal favorite from his canon).
Something wonderful is always happening in the eyes of M. Night Shyamalan. Camera work is important, but pairing him with cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (Us, Split, It Follows) and a beach setting has made for a delightfully disturbing landscape, complete with bright colors and a tropical palette that adds accents to the wonky humor. While the man has always tried to write funny dialogue, he has instead landed in the camp of campy, each interaction so overtly on-the-nose that it’s just too bonkers for anything except hilarity. Tone takes a leapfrog over intent, leaving purposeful humor blissfully riding shotgun to the scenery while the unintentional takes the wheel from the backseat and steers the entire affair into the style I want from our director.
And of course he thinks it’s hilarious to name a rapper “Mid-Sized Sedan.”
While the humor works in unintended ways, the scares are direct and unsettling. Impromptu surgery and malleable marrow make for the nastiest of the visuals, but it’s the constant reminder of mental maturity that sets the stomach to it’s tumultuous sea voyage. The children are all of six and eleven, so when they enter the bodies of hormonal teenagers things start to get complicated. Adding a narcissistic schizophrenic to the mix makes for some intense interactions, but unfortunately the Shyamalan that was able to slow down and allow character beats to marinate is long gone. Every disturbing, off-putting idea is tossed at the screen as through from an automatic rifle, barreling along without time to stop and think about what is happening.
And there’s the thing. This is a brilliantly cast film, one with a wild premise, that’s going to alienate some of the audience. I adored it, but the breakneck pace and stilted Shyamalan dialogue is going to be difficult for even the most patient viewer. I think this is the man’s most ambitious film in almost twenty years, but with that comes the scorn of everyone that isn’t interested in his experimentation. Many major films aren’t for everyone, but this is an $18m movie that is only aimed at answering the questions the director had, rather than the audience.
I love Old – I won’t say otherwise, but the mistakes it makes are often boldly in the face of the audience instead of letting them figure it out on their own. Tons of the magic has been recaptured, leaving us with a right figure and an impressiove comeback and I’m having all of it.
Old is currently streaming in theatres.