Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, Split), Old (2021) sees a family (played by Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Emun Elliott/Alex Wolff, Embeth Davidtz/Thomasin McKenzie) on a tropical holiday who discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly, reducing their entire lives into a single day. On the beach, they come across married couple Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and Charles (Rufus Sewell) with their daughter Kara (Kyle Bailey/Eliza Scanlen), married couple Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia Carmichael (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and a famous rapper (Aaron Pierre). All of whom seem to have ended up on this beach for a reason.
To start, this film is gorgeously shot. Mike Gioulakis (It Follows, Us) served as the cinematographer for this film, and what a fantastic job he did. Especially for a film like this, which takes place primarily on a beach, which could not be an easy place to film, every single scene was dripping with atmosphere and absolutely stunning shots. Everything was well-composed from the long, lingering shots of the beach or landscape, to the crisp shots of the water and the characters.
The direction from Shyamalan was also really impressive. The amount of restraint Shyamalan has in showing certain things or moving from one character to the next gave the film more style than it might have either wise had. There are two long takes that stand out to me both in how they look and how they thematically connect. While there were certain directorial choices that were a bit distracting and self indulgent, overall it was honestly very well directed and a much welcome return for Shyamalan for lower budget, high concept thrillers/horror films.
Something else that worked well was the pacing in the script. It functioned like a real time (no pun intended) thriller in which we see the characters in real time aging and trying to figure out what’s going on. It also works because the characters are quite intelligent and puzzle out ways to escape rather quickly, especially Ken Leung’s (“Lost,” “Industry”) character. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a few story issues, though. For example, early on the characters come up with a possible way they could get out of there, though it could cost them a few decades of their lives, but then the movie and the characters seem to forget about that possible way of escape, and it’s never brought up again. Likewise, the characters found out too many things too quickly, and it ultimately deflated some of the tension. That is what partially contributed to the twist being so underwhelming. Though the final ending was extremely well executed, the main twist was extremely underwhelming, mostly because so much was already known by the audience as well as the characters.
Though the characters for the most part were very well-rounded, there were admittedly some really obvious and awkward lines. Early on, Guy (Gael García Bernal) tells his wife “You’re always living in the past,” to which Patricia (Vicky Krieps) responds “you’re always living in the future.” Those are just two examples of some really on the nose and obvious lines that spell out the themes and the situation the characters are in. For the most part though the characters were very consistent. Unfortunately, that’s not something to be said about the acting. The most uneven performances came primarily from Gael García Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle, Y Tú Mamá También), Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread, Colonia), and Rufus Sewell (“The Man in the High Castle,” A Knight’s Tale), though some of the more awkward lines might have been partially to blame. With that being said, Alex Wolff (Hereditary, Patriots Day), Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit, Leave No Trace), Eliza Scanlen (“Sharp Objects,” Little Women), and Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road, “Lovecraft Country”) served as some of the stand out performances.
Though Shyamalan really utilizes the concept to its fullest extent, the same doesn’t necessarily apply to the concept in regards to the genre. This film has a lot of really solid thriller moments but very much falters on the horror side, instead relying on suspenseful music to emphasize the scarier moments, which weren’t that scary to begin with. There were a lot of missed opportunities to really play with the body horror and uncomfortableness of the concept. That is to say, except for one moment towards the end involving Abbey Lee’s character, which was legitimately squirm inducing and left much to be desired for what could’ve been done with the horror and absurdity of the concept.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
Old (2021) is mostly salvaged by its strong emotional core with the main family and it’s exploration of themes like mortality, and whether or not, when faced with death, we choose to accept it or avoid it. This film also has a very compelling concept and, though it could’ve leaned into the horror elements a bit more, it really uses that concept to its fullest extent. Despite some clunky writing, beautiful cinematography and stylish moments of direction make Old an entertaining experience.