With Old, M. Night Shyamalan, once again, overbakes his figurative cinematic soufflé—and the damn thing collapses before it makes it out of the oven.
It’s too bad, because there are occasional elements that make Old feel like it could be one of the more bizarre, daring and wacky thrillers he’s ever made. Shyamalan’s perfectionist tendencies, however, work to derail what could’ve been a dark, dark horror comedy with a solid satirical bite. In the end, it’s just another film with an out-of-nowhere, poorly executed Shyamalan twist and a tidy ending that’ll send you home saying, “Oh, I have been Shyamalan’d again!”
A family shows up at a super-spiffy tropical resort for some much-needed R&R. Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are dealing with some marital and medical problems, and their two children—11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old Trent (Nolan River)—are all about going to the beach. They eventually make it to a special beach, courtesy of a shuttle driver played by Shyamalan himself. (This is not a good sign!) They, and a host of other resort guests, make their way through a small canyon to a delightful beach for some fun in the sun.
The Twilight Zone stuff kicks in almost immediately, as Maddox and Trent return from a beach exploration 5 years older. They eventually age into actress Thomasin McKenzie and actor Alex Wolff, as the beach is a place where you somehow age 50 years in a day. That’s bad news for some of the older folks on this excursion, because it lends to pre-existing medical conditions exploding in grotesque (albeit PG-13) ways.
There’s a stretch of this movie that is equally hilarious and disturbing—one of the most balanced movie sections Shyamalan has ever put to film. Then … it all slips away, and the whole darned thing is squandered in favor of overly tidy screenwriting, done to keep the proceedings PG-13, and send folks home with a sense of closure.
No, no, no. If there was ever a movie that didn’t need a tidy ending and warm feelings, it’s this one! It’s astounding how Shyamalan can flirt with something so perfectly demented, and just throw it all away. The movie is based on a graphic novel called Sandcastle. Having read that novel, I can say he takes a lot of liberties—some clever, some catastrophically bad. The movie’s failures can’t be blamed on the source material; Shyamalan screws himself.
The cast does great work despite the sporadically messy assignment. McKenzie is a terrific actress, and while the movie doesn’t spend enough time dealing with the complexities of an 11-year-old in a woman’s body, she does have a few good bizarro moments. Wolff is equally good, especially when his character gets into a predicament with his vacation girlfriend—the film’s outrageous highlight.
The dialogue gets a little wordy—Shyamalan likes to hold the viewer’s hand and over-explain things—but for much of the time, it actually contributes to the weirdness of the movie. It suits the picture’s odd, unorthodox pace, from about the midway point until near the ending.
As for the film’s statements on aging, Shyamalan sees the positives as well as the negatives. However, he focuses more the negatives, as people contort due to calcium deficiencies, or have fatal seizures, or fall off cliffs because they are trying to escape getting old. Oh, and some people suffer degenerative mental ailments (one in particular is played by Rufus Sewell), and they get homicidal.
On second thought … Shyamalan doesn’t really see anything positive in aging.
As for the film’s wrap up, it’s sinisterly clever, yet totally unnecessary—going against the grain of the whole movie. Sadly, Shyamalan screwing up a film ending is as inevitable as the aging process getting lampooned in Old.
Old is now playing at theaters across the valley.