What should be a perfect vacation for a family on the brink of separation turns into a deadly holiday in M. Night Shyamalan’s Old. Dating back to 1999 with the release of his big spooky hit film The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan has been writing and directing extremely creative, intense, and sometimes bizarre films. His latest, Old, is not exactly in the same category.
The film’s focus is on a family on the verge of a breakup. The parents, Guy and Prisca (played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps), take their two children Trent (Nolan River) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton) to a beautiful, exotic tropical resort. Once there they try to put on a happy face and get the kids to enjoy themselves. However, later that night the kids hear their parents arguing and yelling through the bedroom door. It’s clear from their reaction it’s happened all too often before.
The next day the resort’s manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) tells the family about a secluded, private, and beautiful beach that he only shares with guests he really likes. He offers to make arrangements for them to spend the day there and they agree. When they get into the resort’s shuttle, they find another family there who’ve also been invited by the manager; a doctor (Rufus Sewell), his trophy wife, Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their six-year-old daughter, Kara (Kylie Begley), and the doctor’s elderly mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant).
The two families make there way through a rocky cavern to find the breathtaking beach and at first are enjoying themselves. Another couple joins them a little later – a nurse named Jarin (Ken Leung) and his wife, Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird).
After six-year-old Trent starts to complain about his swim trunks being too tight and then finds a dead woman floating in the water, the paradise becomes torment for everyone on the beach. The dead woman had been with a famous rapper (Aaron Pierre) who’s in shock over her death and swears he had nothing to do with it.
Things go from bad to horrific when all three children seem to age in only a few hours (now played by Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, and Eliza Scanlen), becoming teenagers and outgrowing their suits. It’s revealed the minerals in the massive rock wall surrounding the beach are causing their cells to age rapidly, with a half hour equal to one year of their life.
They try to exit the beach through the passageway they entered, but that only leaves them dizzy and disoriented – and back out on the beach once more. Desperate to save themselves and not die within 24 hours, the unlikely group struggle, argue, and sometimes work together to try to find a way off the deadly beach with the minutes ticking away hours of their lives.
With a beautiful cinematic landscape, Old is a strange and bizarre film with a premise that feels like it belongs as an episode of The Twilight Zone rather than a full-length film. Old‘s a thriller/science fiction drama that’s heavy on the chaos and dysfunctional families but missing any real scares or suspense.
The film suffers due to its silly, unbelievable dialogue and the stilted and monotone performances by the two leads. Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps have zero chemistry together and when the true horror of their situation becomes evident, they never seem truly afraid or terrified for their children or themselves.
The best performance in the film is delivered by seasoned character actor Ken Leung as Jarin, the one character who seems to be able to figure out what’s happening to them and why. He also displays great concern when one member of their group starts to become a threat to everyone. Leung’s performance is the only one that seems genuine and not staged.
Another weakness is that M. Night Shyamalan doesn’t allow enough time in the beginning of the film to develop any of the main characters so the audience can connect and care about them the way he did so masterfully in Signs. Instead of having an invested interest, the audience is left to wonder who if any will make it off the beach alive but not necessarily care.
Missing any real tension and character development, Old is an empty thriller from a filmmaker who once knew how to shock, surprise, and emotionally move the audience.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images, brief strong language, partial nudity, strong violence, and suggestive content
Release Date: July 23, 2021
Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures