Things have been looking up for two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan who began his career with 1999’s The Sixth Sense and gave us decent scares with 2002’s Signs before his career careened off course with Lady in the Water, The Happening (wind as a villain is never a good choice), and After Earth. He got back on track with 2016’s Split and Apple TV+’s brilliant series, Servant, which he executive produces and directed episodes of. Unfortunately, Shyamalan’s mini-hot streak ends with the 2021 horror/thriller, Old.
Old’s loosely based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by French writer Pierre Oscar Lévy and artist Frederik Peeters. The action’s set in a tropical paradise complete with resort staff who immediately serve guests their favorite cocktails (based on a questionnaire completed before arrival) and supply a fully stocked candy station for the kiddies. The creep factor is instantly apparent; these resort employees are far too cheery and helpful.
The resort manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) selects a small group of guests to invite to a very private, secluded beach. First up is a family of four who desperately need a little R&R. Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are obviously having major relationship issues and it’s hinted that Prisca is ill which is part of the reason they’re keeping their 11-year-old daughter, Maddox (Alexa Swinton), and six-year-old son, Trent (Nolan River), in the dark by pretending everything is hunky-dory.
Also invited are a racist douchebag doctor named Charles (Rufus Sewell), his trophy wife, Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their adorable six-year-old daughter, Kara (Kylie Begley), and Charles’ elderly mom, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant). Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) join them and seem to be the only couple who enjoy being in each other’s presence.
A rapper with a bloody nose who goes by the ridiculous name Mid-Size Sedan (Aaron Pierre) and his dead girlfriend complete the carefully selected group who have the gorgeous beach all to themselves.
It doesn’t take long for the beachgoers to realize there’s something freaky going on. The dead woman on the beach isn’t nearly as worrisome to the group as Trent outgrowing his swim trunks for no logical reason. Soon it’s apparent Trent’s shorts aren’t the only thing growing as the kids mysteriously age up within hours of arriving on the beach. The youngsters become teenagers (played by Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, and Eliza Scanlen) while the adults begin showing the effects of age with new wrinkles and hearing loss. With no hope of escape from this twisted paradise, the strangers come to the realization their lives are slipping away as the minutes tick by.
Love the premise, hate the way it’s executed pretty much sums up my opinion of M. Night Shyamalan’s Old. It could have been a fascinating character study of how each member of this eclectic group faces the prospect of death – the keyword here being “could.” It’s not, because Shyamalan hasn’t offered us a single character to like or sympathize with. There’s no character development which makes it impossible to feel any empathy or become invested in their outcomes. When they die, we simply don’t care. Not only that, but we also root for quite a few of these insufferable characters to die horrific deaths because they deserve it. Or at least Shyamalan hasn’t given us any reason to believe otherwise.
In one of the film’s earlier scenes, Prisca warns her kids to stop rushing life and stop “wishing away the moment.” I’d loved to have seen a film that takes that line and runs with it. Instead, it’s just a throw-away piece of dialogue. Over the following hour and a half plus the characters never evolve past being two-dimensional, dispensable horror film caricatures. We’re provided no insight into how each of these strangers is dealing with their mortality. There’s simply nothing interesting going on.
There’s a classic M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end which is morally edgy enough to be interesting. However, after sitting through repetitive scenes with horrible dialogue spouted by disposable characters it’s difficult to justify sticking around for the twist.
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