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Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Old Disappoints by Never Delivering on Its Promising Premise

July 22, 2021 08:15 | By
Old

A scene from Old

Who knows what prompted M. Night Shyamalan to write the thriller Old? Maybe he was feeling the passage of time on himself or seeing his daughters growing up too fast or (in actuality) seeing his parents aging, but it’s one of his stranger thrillers, even if it’s also one of his most high-concept.

Gael García Bernal plays Guy Capa, the head of a family with two children, who have come down to a tropical resort on the Dominican Republic for their family vacation. The young kids are unaware that their father and mother, Prisca (Vicky Krieps from Phantom Thread), are planning to divorce. The group is given a tip at the resort about a beautiful private beach, but once they arrive, they discover that they’re not alone but also that something about the beach is causing everyone and everything to age incredibly fast.

It’s about as high a concept as one can possibly get, but it’s also a premise that doesn’t require a ton of explaining for how this phenomenon affects everyone who unwittingly arrives on a beach, which also offers certain healing aspects to some, including Prisca, who has been diagnosed with a tumor. Others there with the Capa family include a wealthy doctor (Rufus Sewell), there with his trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their daughter Kara and his elderly mother. (Chrystal is obsessed with her youthful looks, so you can only imagine how the aging affects her.) Also present are male nurse Jarin (Ken Leung), his psychologist wife Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and of course, there has to be a rapper, and there is. His name is (get this) Mid-Sized Sedan, and he’s played by Aaron Pierre. It might seem rather hodge podge in terms of the personalities and professions of those who find themselves stranded in this location, but it makes more sense as it goes along.

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Thomasin McKenzie (L) and Alex Wolff in Old

The beach’s effects have the most noticeable impact on the three kids, to the point where multiple actors need to play those roles with Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie playing the Capa kids, Trent and Maddox, as teens, and Eliza Scanlen playing Kara, Charles and Chrystal’s daughter. 

You can tell with all those names mentioned that Shyamalan was not messing around while casting Old with Casting Director Douglas Aibel CSA. I only wish him having so many experienced actors would make the interactions and relationships between the various characters more believable, but the acting in Old is one part that frequently falls short, feeling awkward and stilted at times. Sure, these are all strangers, and it isn’t necessary to make them feel comfortable with each other but that extends to the different actors playing the kids with the adults. I’ve actually seen Ken Leung give much better performances, including the oddly-similar Lost.

Some may be surprised that Old is actually based on a graphic novel, called Sandcastle. For the most part, Shyamalan has always veered more towards original ideas. In recent years, Shyamalan has also gotten away from the idea of building an entire movie up to one single final twist, and Old offers more little twists as it goes along — none which we’ll reveal.

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Vicki Krieps (L) with McKenzie

Something teased in the trailer includes one of the young girls getting pregnant and coming to term within minutes, and one wishes that more was done with that idea, but that’s generally the case with the whole movie: Lots of ideas, none of them realized particularly well to fully satisfy. Another deceptive aspect of Old’s marketing makes it look like the Capas are told that kids are forbidden from being on the beach, which is not something that actually happens in the movie. 

Despite the great location and how it’s used, there are aspects of the filmmaking that bothered me, beginning with some of the odd and jarring cinematography decisions made by DoP Michael Gioulakis that frequently takes one out of the movie. This is most noticeable as we first see the way the kids are aging or actually don’t see, as the filmmakers chose to hold that transformation for a beat.

In fact, some of the decisions not to show things will be particularly aggravating for fans of horror, because it was decided that maybe it would be more disturbing to not show things. (Actually, it’s not.) There’s a little bit of blood and gore, but it’s always done with an PG-13 rating, which is only part of what makes the film so frustrating. 

Shyamalan has brought over Production Designer Naaman Marshall and composer Trevor Gureikis from his Apple TV+ series, Servant, and while the music is perfectly fine, neither of those creatives are given enough to really show their stuff, as they’re able to do on Servant.

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Rufus Sewell in Old

One craft that does come through is the special makeup effects used to age all of the actors, the work of Thom Floutz, Tony Gardner, and Alterian, Inc., which frequently involves prosthetics in some cases. The makeup in general — led by Makeup Department Head Cristina Waltz — helps create the desired effect, but one presumes that VFX were involved in some instances.

Either way, Old probably won’t be seen as one of Shyamalan’s finer moments nor one of his worst movies. And yet, it’s a bit of a let-down after the one-two punch of Split and Glass, which successfully wrapped up ideas that began twenty years ago in Unbreakable. The fact that Old isn’t able to fully deliver on such a simple idea makes it more of a disappointment than a disaster.

Old opens nationwide in theaters on Friday, July 23, with previews on Thursday night. All photos courtesy Universal Pictures