Review: M. Night Shyamalan's bizarre 'Old' a twisty and thought provoking chiller
Courtesy of Universal
Love him or hate him, M. Night Shyamalan gets a reaction. Whether that’s good or bad for his new thriller, “Old,” a story of unsuspecting resort goers caught on a secluded beach where they start aging rapidly for unforeseen reasons, is a story for another day, yet one thing is guaranteed: people will definitely be talking about the chills and endearing sense of dread the prolific filmmaker cooks up. Be it the unpredictability of the aliens in “Signs,” the final twist in “The Village” or, to a lesser extent, the, uh, questionable decisions in “The Last Airbender,” Shyamalan goes for broke and pours his heart into whatever he’s making. “Old” is a curious film, one rooted in signature trademarks, silly dialogue, and bizarre body horror. You must admire and respect the ambition in crafting an original, theatrical made picture in a summer where the biggest movies are reboots, sequels, and superhero flicks. I’d rather watch a filmmaker like Shyamalan swing for the fences and miss dozens of times than endure another useless franchise starter (looking at you “Snake Eyes”).
But “Old” is unequivocally a film where you’re either on its wavelength or you’re not, a divisive excursion that’ll entice just as quickly as it loses you. Deliberate choices with long tracking shots, oddly framed close-ups, and matter-of-fact dialogue will likely be the dealbreaker, but Shyamalan enlists a diverse cast, an eclectic hair-raising score from Trevor Gureckis, and legitimate spooks not of the cheaper variety to lure skeptics who are probably sitting in the audience wondering exactly what the hell is going on. Me included.
Loosely based on Frederick Peeter’s graphic novel “Sandcastle,” “Old” takes a solid 45-minutes to lay the foundational legwork with several intersecting characters with more in common than one might assume. There’s Gael Garcia Bernal’s Guy, an insurance actuary, his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps), who curates artifacts for museums and their two children, Trent and Maddox; Jarin (Ken Leung), a nurse on vacation with his wife, Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), an eplieptic prone to seizures; you’ve also got Charles (Rufus Sewell) the surgeon, his instagram model/girlfriend Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and their young six-year-old daughter, Kara. Shyamalan takes the time in allowing each subset of characters to breathe before the shady resort offers a once-in-a-lifetime day-trip: a beach off-the-beaten path away from tourists where it becomes apparent within an hour things aren’t as they seem.
As the proverible clock begins ticking: the families notice odd and strange changes to their bodies and their inability to leave, but the biggest indicator comes when Trent and Maddox, who an hour ago were happy-go-lucky adolescents, are now in their teens and look a lot like Alex Wolf and Thomasin McKenzein from “Hereditary” and “JoJo Rabbit.” Same for Kara, a six-year old going on 22 who finds herself inadvertently going through an entire nine-month birth cycle in seconds and who is played by the great Eliza Scanlen. It’s a silly and ridiculous sequence that, in my sold out screening, garnered more laughs than frights, but this entire concept of living out the span of a lifetime in hours fascinates more than it deteriorates.
Do characters act and behave as imbeciles and point out the obvious even when we’re already thinking it? Of course, but it’s a choice Shyamalan doesn’t shy away from. He embraces the weirdness and basks in the ambiance, purposefully playing up the awkward and, yes, hilarious tension before channeling all these characters' ardent fears with some crafty, albeit, gooey PG13 body horror. Eagle eyed fans will probably try guessing the obligatory “twist” before the opening title card, a troupe that’s sadly become the filmmakers defining punchline, but I’d argue “Old” is the first of his films where you could trim the last 15 minutes and leave the viewer hanging in ambiguity. There’s such a thing as over-explaining, and “Old” is the rare Shyamalan case where less is more.
Still, the makeup department deserves major props for altering appearance just slightly enough to indicate the passage of time, a subtle wrinkle here or shade of grey in the hair there. Delicate touches which glisten under Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography and even if the director throws in minor, oddly placed, sequences (how about the removal of a tumor the size of a grapefruit) that are laughable gimmicks, at least he’s trying to maintain our attention. Acclimating to the premise is easier said than done and by the time audiences are beyond the learning curve, they’ll either be impressed at the sheer audacity of what’s transpiring or eyeing the exit.
OLD opens in theaters Friday, July 23rd.