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The internet has made a running joke out of M. Night Shyamalan’s career; throwing ridicule at his films willingness to go there with respect to theatrics and shock endings.
Sure, certain films have come together better than others, but there is no denying him as a filmmaker willing to risk it for the biscuit.
Frankly, it takes nerve to do what Mr Shyamalan does.
In Old, The Sixth Sense writer-director sets his doomy gaze on a group of beach-bound holiday goers who mysteriously begin to accelerate in age. (Every half an hour on the beach ageing them a year.) An ominous score and distressing pan shots, as though staring from afar, tell us something sinister is at play. Imprisoned by their “idyllic” beach paradise, unfortunately one of the more clunky elements of the film, the group of strangers begin to lose themselves to the pain that brings them together. Their togetherness is no mere coincidence.
Old is predominantly told from the perspective of unassuming couple-on-the-rocks, Prisca (Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread) and Guy (Gael García Bernal, The Motorcycle Diaries). Their two children, the attentive puzzle-solver Trent and watchful tween sibling Maddox (both characters portrayed by different actors based on the state of their age), experience the harshest of this mysterious beach’s side-effects; growing from children to adults within the span of several hours.
They are joined in their strandedness by an equally perplexed slew of characters, the likes including photogenic Insta-wife (Chrystal, Abbey Lee) and her short-fused doctor husband (Charles, Rufus Sewell), their daughter (Kara, Eliza Scanlen et al.), a nose-bloodied rapper (Mid-Sized Sedan, Aaron Pierre) and fellow vacationing couple (Patricia, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Jarin, Ken Leung).
The full Shyamalan package is on display in Old: a trail of breadcrumbs not so gracefully disguised as dialogue, some self-casting, and a twist-ending that, for those familiar with Mr Shyamalan as a filmmaker, many will try to decipher from the get-go. The common criticism of The Village filmmaker’s use of the twist, often commented as being gimmicky and dissatisfying in its execution, doesn’t feel the case in Old. With Old, Mr Shyamalan plays his card right, offering a satisfying conclusion that not only lines up with what has been established but renders as compatible in vibe with the rest of the film.
There is a solid sense of trepidation felt in Old; a credit to the eerie production elements and commitment from a cast who reach for the dramatic crescendo. Gore, though graphic, is kept to a minimum, and succeeds in depicting certain character’s psychological descent. It allows the picture to build to a feverish nightmare that feels belonging to a classification higher than PG. That said, the desire to be profound in dialogue, often displayed in dead-seriously spoken bouts that convey characters inner turmoil, along with the character’s penchant to announce their life stories out of nowhere, strikes a bung note. The two worlds, being the mixture of the straight-faced with the ridiculous, doesn’t possess an offbeat, Lanthimos-esque enough vibe to work seamlessly. It instead unfortunately flattens the seriousness of scenes.
Old is a film of big ambitions and nerve. While the film isn’t without its jarring faults, there is an endearing sense of commitment from the cast, coupled with the film’s willingness to swing big by way of plot, that compensates. Growing old might be a terrifying realisation, but in the case of Old, it ages gracefully…relatively.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Eliza Scanlen
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