The biggest challenge in reviewing M. Night Shyamalan’s Old lies in describing its central idea without making the film sound considerably cleverer and more interesting than it is, but I’ll give it my best shot. Just remember: if I fail, and Old does sound clever or interesting at any point, it totally isn’t.
This is directed and written by Shyamalan who is one of the most consistently inconsistent of film makers (Sixth Sense,good; The Village, so-so; Last Airbender, let’s never talk of it again). The central idea has it that a group of holidaymakers are trapped on a tropical, secluded beach where ageing is accelerated and, as they discover, every 30 minutes there amounts to a year. This conceit is clever and interesting as it confronts our terror of getting old head-on, by having us notice it, whereas it usually happens so incrementally we’re unaware until we look in a mirror one day and gasp: ‘I’m my mother!’ I was looking forward to how this might play out. But, alas, Shyamalan doesn’t develop this idea in any meaningful way, instead playing it purely for schlock value, and overall the delivery is so poor that, while they’re trapped on that beach, it feels as if we’re trapped in an episode of television’s Death in Paradise gone nuts. Plus, it’s as if every 30 minutes amounts to a year too.
The main characters are a couple, Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps), who are on holiday with their two young children at some island resort when the manager tips them off about a beautiful secluded cove. So off they trot, along with some other guests, including a doctor, Charles (Rufus Sewell), his trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and their little daughter. There is also a nurse, Jarin (Ken Leung), and his wife Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird). As soon as they all arrive at the beach they realise something’s up when they find it’s already occupied by another holidaymaker (Aaron Pierre), who is silently skulking against the rocks with blood dribbling from his nose. Then a dead body washes up. But they can’t leave because every time they try to do so some kind of force-field throws them back. Unfortunately.
The twists and turns, such as they are, rely on gruesome, gory shocks — let’s watch someone’s bones break as their osteoporosis sets in!; let’s watch this tumour rapidly grow to the size of a football! — rather than anything more inventive. For instance, you’d think there would be some mileage in the kids’ bodies becoming adult while they are still mentally children, like Tom Hanks in Big, but that’s forsaken for the next horror scare, and none of these scares are that scary. They’re just silly, mostly.
As for the script, it feels like a Google Translate job. When a little dog dies we get: ‘It’s no longer alive!’ Or, amid all the carnage, someone might exclaim: ‘But we’re on a remote under-developed island!’ The acting, meanwhile, is full-on amateur Agatha Christie — including Sewell and Amuka-Bird, who are usually so reliable — and the choppy, jerky direction will drive you insane. Often characters are foregrounded at the expense of the action, which is occurring in the background or off-screen, so events are sometimes told purely in reaction shots.
The film is a hoot, even if it is for all the wrong reasons — I laughed quite a lot when I shouldn’t have — but I would have liked some logic. Any logic. Internal or external, but there truly isn’t any. Why might a wound heal itself almost instantly in one scene but not in the next? As for the ending, it is plainly ludicrous. So not clever or interesting even if it sounds like it should be. Beware.
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