26th Jul2021

‘Old’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung, Alex Wolff, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Eliza Scanlen, Kathleen Chalfant, Gustaf Hammarsten, Thomasin McKenzie, Embeth Davidtz, M. Night Shyamalan | Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

A day at the beach turns into the nightmare of a lifetime in Old, a supernatural thriller that marks something of a return to form for twist-meister M. Night Shyamalan. That’s not to say it’s entirely perfect, but the film’s overall experience more than compensates for its minor flaws.

The central concept couldn’t be simpler. A group of guests at a ritzy resort are directed to a stunningly located beach by their eager-to-please hotel manager (Gustaf Hammarsten). However, once they arrive on the beach (Shyamalan cameos as the bus driver), they find that they cannot leave, as any attempt to do so results in unconsciousness.

Things quickly go from bad to worse, as the group realise that the beach is accelerating their aging process at a remarkable rate. Soon, young children become teenagers, while the adults begin to experience various degrees of age-related deterioration. Then the stark reality sets in: if they don’t find a way to escape the beach, they’ll all be dead by morning.

Shyamalan made his name with supernatural suspense thrillers and he’s on solid ground here, creating an increasingly creepy atmosphere as the spooky occurences mount up in the early scenes. The middle section is even more impressive, with Shyamalan orchestrating a crescendo of confusion and chaos on the beach, heightened by Mike Gioulakis’ swirling camerawork and unsettling dialogue that seems to consist entirely of non sequiturs.

As things on the beach get worse, Shyamalan pulls off a number of highly effective body horror moments, whether its violence erupting from unexpected sources, or various medical conditions reaching their logical conclusions. To that end, the script exploits some potent real-life anxieties, from the fear of death and age-related illness to a general concern that life is passing you by – the phrase “They grow up so quickly, don’t they?” (sadly not used in the film – a missed opportunity there) is chillingly appropriate here.

As for the performances, Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps are engaging as the main couple, while Rufus Sewell is superb as Charles, an already grumpy surgeon whose behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. There’s also strong support from Abbey Lee (as Charles’ trophy wife Chrystal) and Lost’s Ken Leung (as male nurse Jarin), but the acting honours are roundly stolen by rising stars Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie and Eliza Scanlen, who each do a terrific job of playing children (Nolan River, Alexa Swinton and Kyle Bailey play the younger versions) who literally grow up too fast.

Old‘s main problem is that the characters are clearly aging at different rates – the kids age at least ten years early on, while the adults don’t gain so much as a grey hair, and it’s only towards the end that the wrinkles start showing. On the plus side, at least Shyamalan didn’t opt for embarrassingly awful prosthetic make-up – on balance, it was probably the right decision.

On top of that, the expected twist ending is underwhelming and poorly paced – it weirdly feels both rushed and dragged out, leaving you with a suspicion that it’s been heavily edited and a large amount of it ended up on the cutting room floor.

Ultimately, Old may not have the strongest ending (which is doubly frustrating because there’s a perfect closing scene about twenty minutes earlier), but it delivers handsomely on chills, shocks and creepy atmosphere. It’s also surprisingly moving, making this Shyamalan’s best film since The Village.

**** 4/5

Old is in UK cinemas now.

One Response to “‘Old’ Review”

  • Micah Jung

    I personally loved the intrigue and thriller part. If you know know M Night you will know there is a catch at the end of his films. Perhaps the author hasnt seen his other films. ALex and the other two young actors deserve some recoganize you see there pain and anguish over losing something. Its sad and up lifting at the same time.