‘Old’ Review: Shyamalan can’t seem to help himself
I knew a few things when I heard M. Night Shyamalan intended to adapt acclaimed 2011 graphic novel Sandcastle into a feature film Old. There would a existential metaphor lurking just under the surface. An eclectic group of strangers would be drawn together to face danger and supernatural threat. There would be an (unnecessary) "twist" mucking with an otherwise compelling, and horrific, experience.
Old opens with a family of four Guy (Gael García Bernal), Prisca (Vicky Krieps), and their children Trent (Nolan River) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton) heading to a private resort for a vacation. Prisca tells her son, not to wish time away after he repeatedly asks how much longer until the arrive at the resort.
It's the first of many cues to pay attention to what's happen inside (and outside) the shuttle. Old has an enchanting peacefulness that reels in the audience even at it tempts its characters to drop their guard. Unfortunately, the care taken in crafting Old's idyllic look and increasingly sinister feel doesn't fully extend to its plot progression. Some of it's quirks (and seeming shallowness) are deliberate, like Shyamalan's meta-cameo. But not enough.
It's a slice of paradise. But that slice is paper thin.
This family's set to vacation at an beautiful private resort. Personal welcome from the resort manager (Gustaf Hammarsten), specially crafted drinks for the adults and ever-replenished sweets station for the kids. There's a secret beach the resort manager sends the family as well as doctor named Charles (Rufus Sewell), his wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), his mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) and his daughter Kara (Mikaya Fisher). Shortly thereafter, a third couple Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) joins them. The beach, however, isn't completely empty. A rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan's (Aaron Pierre) been on the beach most of the night but the woman he came with turns up in the cove dead.
And this, is where their peaceful day at the beach takes a turn for the inexplicably weird.
I found myself invested in the plot twists and sinister storyline unfolding in Old. There's something eerie about the island, these family dynamics, and definitely the staff at this resort. But Shyamalan never fully commits to what aspects of this many layered narrative he wants audiences focused on. So a large chunk of that investment doesn't last as pithy dialogue fails to hit properly because of underdeveloped character dynamics. Plus, at his big age, Shyamalan should know better than to use racial animus as nothing more than a plot device.
There's a lot to enjoy as Old unfolds. A couple forced to reconcile their shortcomings before the end comes rushing towards them. Being forced to live your worst version of aging (and the deteriorating) after a life of vanity and/or professional adulation. The problem becomes in the failure to organically explore theses themes (as the vacationers explore the secluded beach might've been good) rather than rapidly cycling through in order to get to the "twist" or rather, the for what of it all.
I mean really, do you know what you'd do if life came at you fast, literally? Better yet what, or who, would you think is an acceptable sacrifice for the greater good? Shyamalan sets aside confronting one kind of horror on screen in service to another kind, of the chaotic evil variety.
There are subtleties at play in this storyline that needed focus to keep the narrative from feeling adrift. But Shyamalan's decision to keep the characters on this beach as archetypes (you'll know why by the end) rather than fully fleshed-out people means this stops being a horror movie just when it shouldn't. And that ultimately results in a third act that's a disservice to both Sandcastle and everything about Old's that's spot on.
Listen as Kriss and I dig into Shymalan's Old on the premium feed because there's no way to really talk about this one without getting into the details.
Old, might just be M. Night Shyamalan’s most humanist film as it wrestles with the choices people are willing to make out of fear or hubris, but that doesn't mean it's not riddled with distracting second and third act pitfalls. Old's cinematic layers perfectly capture the supernatural feel of Sandcastle but Shyamalan’s script sadly supplants the horrific and unsettling with the over-explained and stereotypical.