We’ve discussed M. Night Shyamalan’s work here before, and true to form, his new feature, Old has elicited sharply mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes has them squarely at 50 percent favorable.
Siting precarious fantasies such as The Village, The Happening, and Lady in the Water, fanboys and critics alike have pummeled the acclaimed genre director with charges of proffering half-baked, preposterous plots that don’t pay off. MNS routinely gets written up for Twilight Zone endings more befitting the small screen rather than a theatrical feature.
Stylistic quibbles aside, MNS is and always has been an artful storyteller, and in Old he delivers another dark fable, this time about a family’s vacation to a tropical resort that turns tourists into unwilling test subjects.
Having adapted the French graphic novel Sandcastle, Shyamalan fades in on a European household on holiday, comprised of Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal), wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps), daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton), and son Trent (Nolan River).
Along with a few other hotel guests, Guy’s group is bundled off to enjoy an afternoon of food and frolic at a secluded beach of postcard quality. Everything seems serene and wondrous, but time gets away from these blissful beachcombers, and they start aging in fast-forward.
The lion’s share of Old is spent with the unfortunate tourists as they try every method at their disposal to leave the beach, with very little success. Kids grow up. Young adults get old. Old adults get older and die.
Trent, a curious and open-minded lad, is soon replaced by successively older actors, but continues to try and puzzle out their predicament. He takes a quick time out to father a child with another guest on a similar biological clock, yet he remains committed to the task of liberating his loved ones.
Shyamalan gets credit for covering a lot of ground here, gracefully transitioning from drama, to horror, to deep questions about the ethics of scientific research.
Of course, we also get plenty of sentimental Mom and Pop moments to remind us that time slips away quickly so be sure to tell everyone you love that, blah, blah, blah.
In this fashion, MNS has always been able to have his cake and eat it, too. By combining humanity’s plight with forces at work beyond our comprehension, we are forced to consider perspectives other than our own.
Visually, Shyamalan continually disorients the viewer by having characters wake up in a daze and seeing familiar looking, but different people standing around them. Who are they?
A sunny, postcard beach isn’t supposed to this sinister, right?
This ambiguity provides the dark current that will keep you watching. It’s just like in real life, but in Old, we can feel the time passing. And it hurts like hell.