Twisty-Turny Tale about Aging
If your maitre d’s offer of free private access to a secluded beach that you will share with only a few select fellow guests seems too good to be true, it’s probably because it is. But that doesn’t stop husband and wife team Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) from happily accepting that offer. Unfortunately, it’s also the first of many stupid choices the characters in M. Night Shyamalan’s new film, Old, will make throughout the course of their anything but typical holiday stay at an upscale resort.
Unnatural human behavior is just one of the many missteps and outright fails that plague this twisty-turny tale about the consequences of aging and the absolute certainty of death. That’s right. There’s plenty of blame to go around and most of it centers on Shyamalan himself and the poor decisions with the script he adapts from Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel called Sandcastles.
The premise is a good one: vacationers who opt for a secluded beach excursion soon find themselves quickly aging, and no matter what they do to try and leave the beach, they can’t. What (or who) is causing the aging? Should suspicions rest on the friendly Maitre D who arranged the excursion? Is the stranger they encounter on the beach with a bloody nose responsible for the dead body washed up on the shore? Is the culprit behind the elaborate prank one of the fellow guests?
What sounds like the perfect setup for an intriguing tale of mystery, horror, and suspense capped off with a signature Shyamalan curveball is mostly ruined by sketchy dialogue, poor decisions by characters, and an eye-rolling twist at the end. Also starring Rufus Sewell as an egomaniacal physician, Abbey Lee as his trophy wife, psychologist played by Nikki Amuka-Bird, Nurse Ken Leung, Aaron Pierre as a rapper, and a host of child actors who portray the kids at different ages, the acting is quite adequate, especially the stand out performances from Bernal and Krieps. The two anchor the story and give it a much-needed human dignity when the reason for their vacation is revealed.
However not a single actor is able to rise above the poorly written dialogue and forced scenarios that are downright silly at times. What would a mother do when she sees her daughter emerge from the other end of the beach pregnant with child? Of course, she would turn her head and bury it in her husband’s arms. What would be your first reaction to the news of someone developing cancer while on the beach? Why, cut it out with a pocketknife, of course. And do we feel better when the man selected to swim around the rock outcroppings to get help says, “I was on my swim team.” What swim team? High school? You’re 50 years old! And let’s not even get into the stilted dialogue that would feel right at home in a high school drama. It’s all so slapdash amateur.
To be fair, there are a handful of successes scattered throughout, including some compelling special effects, one in which a frighteningly twisted body skitters across the sand a la Samara’s crab crawl in The Ring. And rather than deploying budget-busting CGI shots of actors aging or plastering them in pancake makeup, Shyamalan effectively drops in look-alike actors at different stages of the aging process – a clever technique that seamlessly melds with his nifty camera handling.
Additionally, the idea of growing old before one’s own eyes is an absolutely terrifying thought in and of itself. We learn that the characters age at something like one year for every thirty minutes. And what is more heartbreaking than watching your adolescent children become teenagers right before your eyes?
When the closing twist is finally revealed, there’s not really a “wow” moment as much as there is a slump-shouldered reluctance to accept the explanation. Old is simply more of the same from a filmmaker who once showed such promise, but who now can only wow us with a “hmm.”
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “PG-13” for disturbing images, brief strong language, partial nudity, strong violence and suggestive content.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.