Movie Review: ‘Old’

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbey Lee, Nikki-Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Eliza Scanlen, Aaron Pierre

Plot: A group of holiday-makers head out to an isolated beach. They soon discover that not only are they trapped in this location, but they’re now ageing at a highly accelerated rate.

Review: The ongoing career of M. Night Shyamalan is utterly perplexing to me. He landed with a big splash with The Sixth Sense and since then has produced muddled, awkward and downright terrible movies. The most notable recurring elements in his films are weird, inhuman dialogue, hollow characters defined by a single quirk, pretentious cameos and crowbarred in twists. In spite of all this, every new project is considered the potential rising of the phoenix, the genius auteur returned to form. His fanbase spent their lives in giddy anticipation of being able to jump out and declare “he’s back!”

Putting aside Unbreakable as the one interesting thing he’s done (at the time, the whole premise doesn’t work in the modern age of superhero movies…and the sequels have created a negative association with the characters), it has been 22 years since his break-out debut. In that time he as put out some of the worst Hollywood movies of the past two decades: Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, After Earth, Glass, The Happening. His best work can be described as good concepts held back by Shyamalan’s ridiculous directing. The majority of his movies only serve to eat into the limited time we have in this life and that brings us thematically to Old.

Based on the graphic novel ‘Sandcastles’, the original concept is moulded to fit Shyamalan’s desire for a twist and quirky characters. Working it into a thriller rather than a fable is certainly more cinematic, but what has been done with it makes it boring, predictable and frustrating.

Our characters turn up to a resort where they give them special drinks based on their tastes, which is always a red flag. Shyamalan famously doesn’t know how to write characters, so instead we have one of the children walk around and ask people what their ‘name and occupation’ is. We also learn that each family at the resort has some kind of health problem and that this resort has something to do with a pharmaceutical company. Then the manager tells them about a special beach. The next day, each of the families get driven out to the beach by a Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan Cameo Appearance.

Eventually they get to the beach and slowly become aware of the rapid ageing that inconsistently affects them all. One character, a successful and famous rapper called ‘Mid-Sized Sedan’ (Pierre) is already sitting on the beach alone, staring off into the distance and he doesn’t interact with the others. The doctor (Sewell) is quickly set-up as suspicious of this figure, possibly because racism, when he insists on sitting further away from him. The character ‘Mid-Sized Sedan’ is going to become an example of why Shyamalan’s terrible writing and direction simply does not work.

The lore is that the characters age at a rate of about 1 year for every 30 minutes spent on the beach. Mid-Sized Sedan (seriously, what the fuck kind of rap name is that) was on the beach from the previous evening. His friends went skinny-dipping and didn’t come back. Rather than taking any action like returning to the resort for help, attempting to contact the authorities, or even SAYING SOMETHING to the large group of people who have arrived the next morning…Mid-Sized Sedan just sits there in the sand and stare at the water. Not a “hey, my friend is missing…I think something bad has happened”. This is the type of inhuman character behaviour I mentioned earlier. He still doesn’t say anything when the friend’s dead body turns up, instead the conflict being the accusation that he killed her. Granted, he’s been sitting there the whole time, it is suspicious.

Narratively, if ‘Mid-Sized Sedan’ did try to leave the beach or warn the people what was happening it would have given the game away. So instead he is written in a completely unrealistic manner. This also breaks the lore, because the beach naturally has this ageing thing going on. Mid-Sized Sedan has been sitting on the beach for more than 12 hours at the point everyone else turns up, yet is unaffected. If we wanted to be generous and say he was in his early 20s to begin with he’d be noticeably older and unrecognisable to the older child who knew who he was. The body of the friend is retrieved from the ocean perfectly intact, only for the time malarkey to cause her to decay within a short about of time. Why she didn’t decay prior to being discovered is not addressed. The time effect continue over-night, we see this happen later.

So, to serve the story we have this character who doesn’t behave in a believable manner and the rules of the universe put themselves on hold for the rest of the characters to arrive. This is bad writing and directing. Most frustrating is that putting Mid-Sized Sedan on the beach the evening before serves no purpose. If he’s arrived with everyone else his story and the friend’s death could have played out exactly the same way without plot-holes.

To be clear, this is ONE example of a character and their role in the film being nonsense. Pretty much everything else feels the same. All of the dialogue is weird and awkward. If you never noticed it before, you will notice it now: all the children in Shyamalan’s movies talk like adults and all the adults talk like children. It’s consistent throughout his filmography. It’s all the more noticeable in Old, because you can’t tell if the characters are supposed to have mentally aged or if we’re dealing with children in adult bodies. When the six year old kid is prattling on about mortgages BEFORE they get to the mysterious beach it becomes hard to keep track of his mental age when he magically ages to adulthood.

Then there’s the little grabs of dialogue that are just nonsense.

“Is it severe? I don’t have time for this,” yells the neurosurgeon, showing interest in pursuing the discussion before immediately dismissing them within the same breath.

“You don’t know me, but I curate museum exhibits,” replies the mother. “I’m telling you this because I want you to trust me.”

I don’t follow the logic, but she says it like being a museum curator grants her some kind of protected status. If she was trying to make an emotional appeal, maybe she could start with her name, and the names of her children. Later she uses her expertise as a museum exhibit curator to determine the rate of a decay in a corpse after looking at it from afar for a few seconds. Maybe this first line was added to lay the groundwork, so it doesn’t feel like bad writing when she unveils the superhuman powers of deduction that being a curator affords her.

Again, just small details that don’t make sense. Like when Mid-Sized Sedan unexpectedly tells people he comes from a wealthy background like its some kind of big twist. There are much larger problems with this movie that get lost in the mix. The evil resort is disappearing dozens of people, and they have covered their tracks by sending a van to collect them from the airport and taking their passports. Immigration records, booking details, airline manifestos and however many people they told about the vacation just might give the game away, chums.

The ending ties everything up extraordinarily neatly and repeatedly explains what was really happening in painful detail. We get a long monologue about how this was a pharmaceutical company all along (yeah, we know), and they’re giving people experimental treatments for their conditions and then chucking them onto the beach to observe the lifetime effects. Obviously the big Topic For Discussion is the morality of killing a small number to save thousands, as the bad guy explains to his minions. That’s not what we were talking about.

We were talking about the nonsense idea that this pharmaceutical company was trying to cue every bloody condition under the sun rather than testing and refining one. There’s this moderately sized lab in the resort where people are just working on curing…everything? All the people chosen have different conditions, and they’re all given a different ‘cure’ before being sent to the beach. Are every group made up of people with the same line-up of conditions? Or are they just trying to cure every disease once? They only have one successful case in the course of movie…do they give up on the others and try something else? Also…every single ‘cure’ is some special one-off dose that will immediately cure these conditions for life? That’s a bigger fantasy that the special time beach. There’s an in-universe explanation for this…the special coral that provides an escape from the beach…but it seems like they’re just regular medical drugs. They can all be mixed in with an alcoholic cocktail as well.

This evil pharmaceutical twist isn’t from the source material, that’s all inserted by Shyamalan. Speaking of the notoriously pretentious film-maker, the biggest reveal of the movie occurs when it is revealed who has been watching them from the clifftops the entire time. We start with a close-up of a camera lens and then pan across to reveal…M. Night Shyamalan watching them from an all-seeing perch. Through a camera. The director…was overseeing everything…with a camera. Get out of your own ass, buddy. This could’ve been any one of a half-dozen characters, but it was the van driver so Shyamalan could do this dumb reveal.

This was nonsense. I should’ve rewatched The Suicide Squad again.

Rating: ONE out of TEN