There are only a handful of directors that draw audiences to theaters solely based on name recognition, and M. Night Shyamalan is one of them Much like Stephen Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese, Shyamalan doesn’t need a big actor to be in his film; audiences are going to see the movie because he is the one behind the camera. I am unabashedly a Shyamalan fan and on many occasions, I find myself being a Shyamalan apologist because he gets such unwarranted flack from movie fans and critics. Shyamalan is one of the most original, daring filmmakers working today. Whenever I sit down for one of his movies, I am excited knowing that it is undoubtedly going to be something I have never seen before.
But despite my appreciation of Shyamalan’s risk-taking vision and filmography, I will be the first to admit that OLD has serious issues. What starts as a super interesting premise, exploring what happens if you are stuck in a place that makes you start aging too quickly, at times veers too much into gimmicky plot points that do not make a lot of sense when you think a lot about it and ultimately took me out of the movie. And not only that, there are also problems with some clunkiness in the script, particularly involving too much unnatural, expositional dialogue. Still, despite my issues with the film, it does get points for never being boring. Even at its most frustrating, I was still looking forward to seeing what was next, particularly the big final act that Shyamalan is known for. Don’t worry, no spoilers here.
Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) decide to take their young kids Maddox and Trent to a tropical island resort for a much-needed vacation. What the kids don’t know is that their parents are going through marital problems and planning this as their last family trip before splitting up. Things at the swanky resort seem to be going well, and the family is particularly excited when the manager sets them up on a secret excursion to a private beach that he only reveals to the resort’s elite guests (red flag!).
A mysterious driver drops Guy, Prisca, and the kids off at the beach with another family, promising to return later to pick them up. At first, the isolated beach seems idyllic. But the group quickly realizes something is very wrong when they speak to a guest that was on the beach prior to their arrival, who has a bad nose bleed and seems visibly shaken. If you couldn’t already tell, things do not go well from here. The beachgoers begin noticing changes in the children; it appears they are aging at a rate of 1 year for every 30 minutes on the beach. And when they try to escape the beach, they black out and end up back on the beach. Now it’s up to the group to try to find a way out before time catches up to them.
The term “overstand” is a term a friend once used to describe someone who was belaboring a point so much that instead of “understanding” it you “overstand” it. That is the feeling I had when watching OLD. Shyamalan relies too heavily on expositional dialogue to really hammer home what is going on in a particular scene instead of relying on the audience to be smart enough to understand it. Additionally, in quite a few scenes the dialogue felt so forced and unnatural that I wondered if it was a problem with the script or a problem with the acting. I still haven’t quite figured that out. OLD also “ended” way too many times, meaning each time I thought I had seen the final scene of the movie, there was another scene after it that felt unnecessary.
Shyamalan’s active camera is one of his staples, and while the odd camera movements may also be disconcerting to some, it is actually an element that I really liked in the film. It added to the intensity and uncomfortableness of the film’s most nerve-racking scenes, making me feel I was right there with the characters. Particularly, I could feel the characters’ claustrophobia from being stuck on the beach.
If you are going to see OLD because you are looking for a horror fix, I suggest recalibrating your expectations. It’s less your typical scary movie with jump scares and creepy scenes, and more an exploration of aging, what is important in life, and :ahem: the “light” topic of existential dread. I also think this film should be seen in theaters; not because the imagery particularly warrants that but more for the communal aspect of seeing the movie with an audience, feeling the intensity of the scenes, and being engulfed in the action without any outside disturbances.
Being a Shyamalan fan, I really wish I liked OLD more than I did, but hey, maybe this will be one of those movies I revisit in a few years and wonder why I didn’t like it the first go around. I still can’t wait to see what creative, original idea Shyamalan has coming next and I will again be first in line to see it.
My Review: C-