Old, 2021, 1 ½ stars

Old  hat

Shyamalan thriller doesn’t age gracefully

From left, Vicky Krieps, Thomasin McKenzie, Gael García Bernal and Luca Faustino star in Old. (image copyright Phobymo / Universal Pictures / Blinding Edge Pictures / Perfect World Pictures)

Exclusive to MeierMovies, July 26, 2021

When I go on holiday, I worry I won’t have time to see and do everything. The characters in M. Night Shyamalan’s new sci-fi thriller, Old, have that problem ad infinitum.

Vacationing at a remote tropical resort, three families are offered the chance to get even more remote when the hotel’s manager mysteriously offers them a day on a private beach. If this sounds like a setup for a bad horror film, it is. But apparently these characters never saw those flicks.

With most Shyamalan movies, it helps to know little in advance. That goes double for Old, as the premise is everything. And though it’s wonderful, that premise isn’t even his, as he bases his screenplay on Sandcastle, a 2013 graphic novel by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. That book, in turn, was inspired by countless other stories involving time travel and the speeding up or slowing down of time. Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, from 1819, comes to mind. But in Old, no one falls asleep. Instead, for the dozen confused beachgoers, tempus fugit.

If only the film could have fugited. Sadly, under Shyamalan’s tone-deaf direction and embarrassingly stiff writing, the film drags, which is ironic considering its subject. And along the way, we learn little of the existential and spiritual nature of time. Instead, Shyamalan concentrates mostly on the physical – and sometimes mental – metamorphoses of his characters. Those physical transformations are, admittedly, difficult to resist (if a bit inconsistent). But that’s about all the film has to offer, except for a rather on-the-nose cameo by the director.

Predictably for a Shyamalan picture, it’s only at the climax that he explains things. But the twist treads too late and too weakly into a film that has already missed its chance at either intellectualism or suspense.

Even Shyamalan’s best work (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, The Village and Lady in the Water – yes, this reviewer liked the latter) didn’t rely principally on naturalistic dialogue. Instead, the stories, pacing, performances and mood carried them. Old, regrettably, is subpar in the last three categories. That’s shocking considering the inclusion of the accomplished Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread), Alex Wolff (Hereditary), Rufus Sewell (The Father) and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit). I had the pleasure of meeting Krieps at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival and was eagerly awaiting this performance, but neither she nor her co-stars seem entirely comfortable with the screenplay. And the gimmicky cinematography only heightens the presumably unintended campiness.

“There’s so many moments we didn’t have,” one character tells another as their fate becomes clear. “It’s not fair.”

There’s a COVID message in there somewhere, or perhaps a Bergmanesque message about human existence. But Old repeatedly misses the chance to say much of anything and, in doing so, becomes another misfire for Shyamalan, the once golden boy of smart American horror. That title now belongs to Ari Aster, whose next project, Disappointment Blvd., is rumored to have a runtime of about four hours. It will likely still seem shorter than Shyamalan’s film.

With age comes wisdom, unless you’re Old.

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For more information on the movie, visit IMDB and Wikipedia.