Movie Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller gets ‘Old’

Movie Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller gets ‘Old’

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Will we be intrigued? Engaged? Frustrated? Homicidal? These are the questions that revolve around any M. Night Shyamalan release. The Sixth Sense made an indelible mark on twisty cinematic thrillers. The Lady in the Water made us appreciate the high level of integrity in reality television. 

In his newest offering, Old, Shyamalan has used Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel Sandcastle as his source. The premise is intriguing. A group of people staying at an exclusive tropical resort are given access to a private beach. Beautiful sand, clear (and notably fish-less) water make up this idyllic cove. 

The first problem is that there are not actual people but more the idea of people. It is as if Shyamalan jotted down quick notes and called it a day. “Let’s see … we’ll have a doctor who is struggling with paranoia. Let’s give him a vain wife, and let’s throw in a daughter and his mother.” Like in a teen slasher movie, they are less human and more cannon fodder.

The focus is on a couple with marital problems (Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps) and their precocious children (Nolan River and Alexa Swinton). They are joined by the aforementioned doctor (Rufus Sewell), his almost skeletal wife (Abbey Lee), his mother (Kathleen Chalfant, one of the great actors of the American theatre, given about six lines), and their gifted daughter (Mikaya Fisher). Added to this is another couple (Ken Leung and Nikki Amuka-Bird), a nurse and a psychologist, respectively; the latter saddled with some of the most cringeworthy lines. Finally, a mysterious rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) is there when they arrive. 

Also, there is Shyamalan himself as the driver who drops them off. The meta-beyond-meta is both annoying and unnecessary. (One assumes he fancies himself Hitchcock. He is wrong.)

There is a potential for a range of dynamics, genuine psychological interaction, personal growth in the face of challenges, tension, plot development, and insight into the human condition when facing challenges. The operative word is “potential.” 

Revealed is that one person in each of the groups has a physical or mental illness. (Not so much revealed as proclaimed.) And very quickly they realize that they are aging rapidly—at the rate of two years an hour.

So, by this calculation, the movie is just shy of four years long.

Spoiler Alert. This is not a good movie.

There are a few (very few) clever twists. The children’s maturation is more noticeable, with them hitting hormonal teenage years rather quickly, resulting in a serious problem that is dealt with and dispatched rather quickly. There are a few scares and a few gross-out moments. But for the most part, they talk, they attempt to leave, and then they pass out. And then they die.

Maybe this would all be fine if the ending were satisfying. Things are explained (sort of). And resolved (kind of). But, by that point, we don’t care (nope).

The film includes accomplished, and even some gifted actors, and they do their best. But it is a struggle that they are not going to win. The dialogue is so wooden that they could have used it to build a raft and float away.

The blame lies squarely with Shyamalan as director, screenwriter/adaptor, and producer. His work seemed to have been wedging every cliché about time and aging, jamming them into the first ten minutes, and then panning the camera in circles on the beach for the next hour and forty minutes. As a result, the “surprises” are few. Old gets old … really, really fast. Or, in this case … over four years.

Rated PG-13, Old is now playing in local theaters.