July 19, 2021

GENRE | M. Night Shyamalan on the Horrors of Aging – 'Old'

"We're never getting off this beach."
Thomasin McKenzie Aaron Pierre | M. Night Shyamalan's Old
Universal Pictures / Blinding Edge Pictures
Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan's latest supernatural thriller, Old, inspired by the French graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and artist Frederik Peeters, has the intriguingly simple premise of a family on a tropical vacation who discover the secluded beach they've found is somehow causing them to age rapidly and reducing their entire lives into just a single day.

Starring Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps as a troubled married couple with young kids, Shyamalan slowly ramps up the domestic turmoil before introducing the creepy supernatural element of rapid aging to incite and highly dramatic sense of terror and horror in his everyday characters. They, alongside other vacationers played by Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung, Abbey Lee, and Aaron Pierre, soon discover the haunted beach they're on is having strange effects on their bodies in addition to the children around them growing visibly older.

Instead of any big ending twist, Old uses its aging conceit to introduce little inventive ones throughout the film that actually seem quite logical within the context of the information presented. It's also refreshing to see smart characters talk problems through and use logic or reason to explain their unbelievable situation in relatively believable ways—particularly Leung as a voice of reason.

Abbey Lee Nikki Amuka-Bird Ken Leung Thomasin McKenzie Rufus Sewell Aaron Pierre Vicky Krieps Gael García Bernal | M. Night Shyamalan's Old

All the performances from a somewhat unlikely seeming ensemble cast really flesh out the slowly ratcheting sense of dread that doubles for a very obvious metaphor for aging and illness. Both Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie, playing teenage versions of child characters we're first introduced to, portray an intriguing mix of conflict, wonder, innocence, confusion, and adaptation.

What nearly sinks the film is how satisfied it becomes with itself by the conclusion. In the final act, Shyamalan over-explains everything, and instead of giving a satisfying but still haunting resolution, he basically answers every lingering question tidily. It feels like a two-hour version of Lost or a feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone that explains all the mysteries beyond the initial premise. This slowly undoes the engaging sense of tension he builds over the first half of the film.

Old uses Shyamalan's trademark sensibilities as a filmmaker, often both celebrated and maligned, to its most basic elements. It's a sly chamber piece using its vacation setting to explore a diverse set of characters in a very theatrical, play-like atmosphere. His latest film also feels like a clever mediation of the often divisive auteur's trademark cinematic tricks and personality as a storyteller.

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