Written by: Adam Vaughn | July 22nd, 2021
Old (M. Night Shyamalan, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
M. Night Shyamalan’s newest film, about a group of diverse families trapped in a deadly time warp, certainly lives up to the hype derived from its initial trailer release. Much of the core concepts and ideas come across terrifyingly and effectively, with a few interesting surprises, several visual achievements, and of course the kind of surprising resolution that Shyamalan has perfected so well in his craft as a storyteller. As much as Old has to offer, however, I found myself very confused and indifferent to the film’s main content, finding inconsistencies and contradictions that had a negative impact on the main narrative.
Old begins with Guy (Gael García Bernal, Museo), taking his wife, Prisca (Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread), and his two kids on an exotic getaway vacation. When the resort owner offers them an excursion to a “remote, private” part of the island, the family finds themselves residing in a beautiful but secluded spot on the map. What first begins as a relaxing stay turns into an absolute nightmare as the family finds that their kids (and soon. everyone!) start to age at an alarming rate, all the way to the point of death and decomposition. With the clock ticking rapidly, the family must find a way out of their entrapment before it’s too late.
I absolutely enjoyed the calm before the storm, as Guy and his family settle down in an aesthetically beautiful resort, with several key elements and staff members that become fully recycled towards the end of the film (with a chilling explanation about their true nature). What I could have gone without was how much the film drags the scenes of drama between Guy and Prisca. It becomes clear and redundant that their relationship has turmoil, and the payoff to this plot point is irrelevant and leads nowhere. Inversely, it feels as if the supporting characters in the film, such as Dr. Charles (Rufus Sewell, The Father), his wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee, HBO’s Lovecraft Country), the unfortunately named rapper “Mid-Sized Sedan” (Aaron Pierre, Syfy’s Krypton), and the couple Jarin and Patricia (Ken Leung and Nikki Amuka-Bird, respectively), have backgrounds that were elaborated just enough but not too much to push the plot forward. Overall, however, the buildup to the action is well crafted, with a suspicious sereneness and a looming sense of caution and fear.
Where Old starts to lose me is at its midpoint, as the phenomenon of time-lapsing has several contradictions, affecting people in ways that don’t necessarily make sense all the time. The use of various cinematography techniques (a 360º spin, for example) lose their luster through repetition, and various close-ups show us nothing on-screen. Ultimately, Shyamalan tries to fit a lot of detail and specificity into a short period of time, and the result is a lot of cluttered ideas that require more explanation or context. While the fast-paced terror and surprise moments keep the roller coaster of intensity going, Shyamalan nonetheless loses the audience with overcomplexity, as well as some scenes of straight-up lunacy.
While Old hits some majorly sour and head-scratching moments as it speeds through its plotline, the most important elements of a film – the setup of premise and the resolving last impression – are very positive and powerful moments that stay with the viewer by the end. As stated, Shyamalan is a master of blindsiding the audience with the truth at the very end, and Old is a perfect example of the director tying up loose ends in a clever and creative way. While the film may not always make logical sense, Old overall manages to entertain and entice the audience with deep themes of the dangers of the medical industry, deriving and riffing off of a creepy, supernatural concept.