M. Night Shyamalan has a reputation for oddball spiritual sci-fi horror, and this movie is plastered with what he’s known for.
A Philly family takes a vacation down to Anamina Resorts (which doesn’t exist, unsurprisingly. No resort company would ever agree to have this sort of film include their name). There’s the father, Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal), mother Prisca (Vicky Krieps), older sister Maddox (…well, there are a fair few actresses that play her) and younger brother Trent (same). It’s evident there’s something between Guy and Prisca they want to keep secret, and it turns out whatever it is, they wanted to take their kids on a wonderful vacation first. After their first day, the resort manager asks them what they all plan to do today, and when it seems they’re not sure of something they’d love to do altogether, he recommends a secluded beach with a fantastic view, away from all the hassle of the public. They go with a few others also on holiday, and all is fine. They were given plenty and plenty of food, so there’s no worry about starvation. There are some severely rusted toys from the hotel in the sand, seemingly abandoned.
But when it becomes evident something is happening to everyone on the beach, especially the oldest and youngest of the tourists, they try to get back the way they came, but the rock wall around them creates some sort of dizziness that causes them to black out. They don’t know how, and can only guess the science, but everyone on this secluded beach is aging rapidly, and with no outside contact and no promise of anyone returning to save them, they have to find a way off, which is easier said than done, before they literally age into dust.
I was planning on this being the final line I’d use for this review, but I guess I’ll just say it now; Old is a film with Shyamalan’s identity truly all over it; horrifying concepts, gleeful creepiness, borderline weird dialogue, head slaps as we wish the heroes were smarter, his signature twists, and inarguable unforgettability. Wasn’t sure how else to really introduce this film. I haven’t seen every Shyamalan film out there, and I haven’t liked all his projects, but I’ve absolutely loved others (you’d be surprised about my opinion and history with one of his most disliked films, but that’s a story for another time). And whatever I think of them, none of his films are phoning it in. If Shyamalan has a concept that sounds borderline silly or strange, he dives into it head first.
So here’s what I did not like about the film, which I’ve already kind of hinted at. There are a fair few lines of dialogue that sound forced and are performed forced, like Chrystal (Abby Lee)’s talk about needing pure calcium for her bone condition. Charles (Rufus Sewell) ends up talking on and on about some movie with Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando that never goes anywhere (I looked it up and found out it was a critically panned film called The Missouri Breaks, and Shyamalan actually hasn’t seen it.) Ken Leung’s character Jarin also ends up involved in his wife having a seizure, and him saying his name, as if it has any impact other than plainly introducing him for this film.
There’s also some head slapping. Characters focus on the wrong thing, or hesitate too much. More of an effort could have been made by many of the characters to get off the island and I feel most people would’ve worked harder with the clock racing against them. I will admit there are logistics brought up and acted upon for why escaping is not so simple, but more could’ve been tried. There’s a scene where a delusional character ends up repeatedly stabbing someone (but don’t worry, for reasons you’ll learn he’s not really hurt), and anyone having this happening to them would fight back if they could, and he could, but he just didn’t. There’s also a scene that leads to serious heartbreak, and it involves an infant, but it has a glaring logical flaw (being formerly kids, how would they even know how to do that? Or want to do that in the circumstances? Were they under delusions from the rapid aging? The movie never makes this clear.) The worst part of this film is the death of a character that could’ve been avoided so easily.
So after all that, why do I still recommend Old? The concept is a great idea for an original horror production, but that’s never enough for a positive review. One thing the movie drastically surprised me on was how scientific it was. Old is a tremendous example of the power of science fiction, showing what were possible if one fact about the world changed. It didn’t just play with the horrors of rapid aging, but logic too, (in spite of the logic of some of the characters) such as how fast a body deteriorates, how much nutrition is required, how too much exertion during this process can lead to uncontrollable fatigue, and how much faster poison can travel through you. It’s a thrill ride of exploration of what would truly happen. Not only that, there were a fair few main characters who I really weren’t sure if they would survive or not, and the movie made me care about them. I grew to really like Trent, Maddox, Chrystal and Kara, who seemed the most likely to escape. The various actors hired to pull off their tiny, teenage and further older counterparts were right on the money, especially as teenagers where they may still feel like kids but puberty and growth in size and strength make them a little more mature but still nervous. There’s a character with a very bad condition who dies because of its acceleration, leading to a scene with a heartbreaking performance and horrifying effects. It looked incredibly real and it creeped the life out of me.
By the end of the film, which includes a plot twist the movie really needed (otherwise I would’ve truly trashed this production.), I felt really weird. Avoiding spoilers, I was pretty sad. Finishing it up and pondering, I realized Old is a film that’s really depressing the more you think about it. I felt so bad for these characters, and their story is going to stick. Old is a movie that could’ve been much better with some simple changes, and I was close to not recommending it. And if you want to see it, either don’t watch the trailer or try to forget as much as you can from it. If anything, Old reminds us of how we all age, and we all will one day not look like how we are right now and never will again. And maybe it’s better to embrace the change rather than shrink away in denial. Plus, you know? I’m going to look into more Shyamalan films. I can see why every time he arrives with a new project, the world opens their magnifying glasses.