A film review by Craig J. Koban July 31, 2021

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2021, PG-13, 108mins.

Gael García Bernal as Guy  /  Vicky Krieps as Prisca  /  Rufus Sewell as Charles  /  Alex Wolff as Trent Aged 15  /  Nikki Amuka-Bird as Patricia

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, based on the graphic novel by Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters
 

 

 

 

I felt like Max Cady from the CAPE FEAR remake while watching OLD - I just started uncontrollably laughing at everything, often to the annoyance of the other few filmgoers in my cinema.  

This is unquestionably one of the funniest films that I've seen in many a moon.  

The fact that it was intended (I think) to be a TWILIGHT ZONE-esque horror thriller is ultimately telling.  

The premise here in OLD is highly ironic: A group of vacationers find themselves trapped on a secluded beach that nightmarishly begins to rapidly age them...and escape from it seems impossible.  I too felt like one of these doomed tourists in the way I felt trapped by OLD for 90-plus minutes.  

Granted, I had easy access to an exit door.   

OLD comes from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, which is, in turn, adapted very loosely from the French/Swiss graphic novel SANDCASTLE by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters.  The central hook here is indeed nifty and has so much untapped potential as not only an effective nerve jangler, but also as an eerie commentary piece about the destructive nature of time on the human mind, body, and spirit (especially when sped up into overdrive).  But, as is the case with a majority of his films over the last (gasp!) nearly twenty years, OLD suffers from spectacular creative ineptitude throughout, which results in film that seems hastily and unevenly cobbled together in a foolish scheme to see what works and what doesn't.  

What's perhaps so damning about this would-be fright fest is just how bumbling the writing, performances, and overall handling of the this scary predicament are on so many unfathomable levels.  OLD contains some of the most eye rollingly awful dialogue that Shyamalan has ever committed to paper.  This is the kind of movie featuring characters that are established as being intelligent (based on their profession) that are presented as so imbecilic that they can't ask very simple and obvious questions about the horror scenario they find themselves in.   When the audience is literally ten steps ahead of the thought processes of the personas that populate the film they're watching...that's a problem. 

I felt really bad for the actors here.  It's not their fault that they are forced to spew out things that would never, ever come out of a normal person's mouth when faced with the distressingly mad series of events that unfold around them.  The film opens with relative tranquility as we see a family on route to the vacation destination of their dreams (or, at least, one that they found online).  There's the father, Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal), and his wife Prisca (PHANTOM THREAD's remarkable Vicky Krieps, so utterly wasted here) and their kids in Trent (Nolan River) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton), and as they arrive at their resort they're greeted with warm and welcoming arms.  Almost too warm and welcoming.  The resort manager offers them VIP access to a secluded beach that's impossible to find without a guide.  Looking for a sense of adventure and not wanting to turn down a good offer, Guy and Prisca decide to partake, and they're soon whisked away to the area in question, but with other resort guests in tow, like Charles the doctor (Rufus Sewell) and his trophy, social media obsessed wife in Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and their young daughter Kara (Mikaya Fisher).  They're all joined by a third couple in male nurse Jarin (Ken Leung) and psychiatrist Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird).   

 

 

Upon arrival at the beach all of the tourists are blown away by its infectious beauty and stunning ocean vistas.  The only eye sore, of sorts, is the mountainous rocks that completely surround the beach, with only a tiny path carved into it serving as the only way in or out.  Things, as they always do in a Shyamalan film, get weird.  One shocking discovery is a famous rapper that's already there named (I kid you not) Mid-size Sedan (Aaron Pierre), who not only seems disturbed, but is oddly bleeding from the nose.  Then his short-term fling washes up naked and dead on shore, much to the dismay of everyone.  Some of the group try to flee the beach through the only escape path, but all of them find themselves knocked unconscious in the process of doing so and wake back up on the beach.  Swimming off of the beach and back to the resort is out considering the sheer distance and impossibly high tides.  Then...the really weird stuff happens.  Trent and Maddox have apparently and suddenly aged five years within just a couple of hours (played in older form by Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie).  Then the adults start aging and, worse yet, begin suffering from issues rearing their immediate and ugly heads, like hearing and vision impairments, dementia, and tumors.  

Judging by the rate of human decay, one day on the beach equals 48 years.   

My 114 minutes in the cinema watching this film had a similar effect. 

At this point in his career, Shyamalan is guilty of the very definition of insanity - committing the same inexcusably awful creative choices over and over again and across various movies and expecting different results each time.  In OLD, the once Oscar nominated filmmaker is simply, but aggressively tapping into his worst instincts and eccentricities that have made so many of his films in the last two decades such laughing stocks.  There's the ultra clumsy introductions, the inanely stilted and nonsensical dialogue exchanges, the bizarrely preposterous lapses in internal logic, the perplexingly odd performance quirks, the late breaking and wrongheaded third act plot twists...and so on and so on.  If there is one thing that Shyamalan does with reasonable assurance here is that he and long-time cinematographer partner Mike Gioylakis do some interesting things with camera perspective, POV shots, and evoke the stunningly beautiful (yet naturally intimidating) environments quite well.  OLD has an interesting look.  I'll give it that. 

But, wow, everything else here is pretty creatively bankrupted.  OLD is a performance and scripting black hole, with a relatively fine ensemble of actors (many of whom I've greatly admired for their past work, like Sewell and Krieps and, even more recently, McKenzie, who was so remarkable in LEAVE NO TRACE) being forced to say and do things that inspires limitless laughter as opposed to terror throughout.  Individual acting ranges from cringe-inducing to serviceable, which isn't helped at all by the fact that Shaymalan's script doesn't really flesh these people out all that well.  We get a menagerie of character types, but not fully realized flesh and blood personas.  Plus, again, so many of these people are so unpardonably dumb in their actions that I simply stared at the screen in shocked disbelief...at least when I wasn't borderline hyperventilating from laughing.   

Like...this dialogue, man.  The worst films explain too much through putrid expositional exchanges (show, don't explain), and OLD does exactly that.  The things that these characters explain (sometimes at the most inopportune moments) are howl inducing.  Consider the horrendously telegraphed attempts at early foreshadowing in the introductory scene, when Prisca compliments her young daughter's angelic singing voice ("You have such a beautiful voice, I can't wait to hear it when you're older.").  Ouch.  Then, again in the earlier sections, we get moments involving the six year old Trent discussing mortgages and adulthood (WTF?!).  I roared later when Mid-sized Sedan described the swimming prowess of his dead sex partner for being "like Michael Phelps!"  Perhaps the most hysterically idiotic proclamation that anyone makes in the film is when Prisca - upon seeing her daughter turning into a teenager before her very astonished eyes in mere minutes - states, "I don't know what's happening...but for now I have another swimsuit...and maybe you should change."  WTF?!  Actually, second that, the most guffaw-inducing line here is when the know-it-all nurse suddenly states (long after multiple tourists have started aging) "I think something  is going on with time on this beach."  

Oh.  My.  God. 

Beyond the limitlessly silly dialogue, OLD is peppered with so many moments that defy description, like, for example, attempts by doctor Charles to remove a rapidly growing tumor in one of the rapidly aging character's gut using nothing but a switch blade and some booze.  Later - as Charles ages - his mind starts to go and he amusingly and endlessly starts asking the other tourists whether they know the name of the film staring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson together (I really wanted to scream out MISSOURI BREAKS at the top of my lungs, but refrained).  Oh, and going back to foreshadowing, when child Trent makes a new buddy at the resort in the opening of the film this same friend shows him a secret communication code (gee, I wonder if that'll figure in heavily into the final act?).  And on the subject of endings, we get 10-15 minutes of self-indulgently layered filler scenes involving twists and turns that methodically tries to cram in a real world explanation behind the supernatural events of the beach.  There was a potentially and potently dark ending that the film could have attained at one point, but then it just goes on and on...and on.  Shyamalan simply can't help himself. 

I remember asking a very direct question in the opening of my review for Shyamalan's last film:  How many more chances does this guy truly deserve at this stage?  Looking back on the late 1990s and early 2000s and he was an unstoppable force in the industry (remember all the he's the next Spielberg talk?) after critical darlings like THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, and SIGNS, but soon after that his career was in utter freefall, with one spectacularly bad dud after another like THE VILLAGE, LADY IN THE WATER, THE HAPPENING, THE LAST AIRBENDER, and AFTER EARTH.  Some thought that he was having a creative resurgence with the recently released SPLIT (I'm not quite in the same camp), but those hopes got dashed with its lackluster follow-up GLASS.  Now, with the clock mercilessly ticking, it's sadly safe to say that the initial three-hit-wonder years of his past are well beyond him and will probably never again be attained.  That's too bad, because I genuinely like Shyamalan as a person (he always seems likeable and infectiously enthusiastic about cinema and his projects in his interviews).  But OLD is alarmingly and indefensibly terrible.  There's no getting around it.  On a scale of dreadful (THE LAST AIRBENDER) to great (THE SIXTH SENSE), I'd rate OLD as a "THE HAPPENING".   

I hope that relative metric makes sense, because so much of this movie doesn't

  H O M E