I’ll cut right to the chase. Old is classic M. Night Shyamalan. Classic in that it boasts utterly bizarre dialogue, weird science and natural phenomena, and an easily diagnosable case of the film’s premise being much better than the execution. When Old is hitting its highs it’s a fascinating film, when it’s hitting its lows it’s cringe-inducing. We’re not getting any younger here, so let’s dive right into Old.
Old is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and is an adaptation of the graphic novel Sandcastle, written by Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederick Peeters. The cast is stacked deep with talent, featuring performances by Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, and Rufus Sewell.
In Old, Guy and Prisca are a married couple trying desperately to navigate a rough patch in their relationship. Resentments are left unspoken and Prisca is hiding a secret. The couple escapes to an island paradise with their two young children, Trent and Maddox. While enjoying their resort holiday, the owner of the hotel clues them into a secluded beach not far from the hotel. The family eagerly accepts and joins a handful of other couples and families for a day of fun in paradise. However, as soon as the group arrives it becomes apparent that something is very wrong. The tropical slice of heaven turns into a prison when they realize that something about the beach is causing them to age rapidly. Their lives have been reduced to a single day… and there’s no way of escaping.
Credit where credit is due, Old is a fascinating story. Aging is the one human certainty and death cannot be escaped. The notion of your life draining away is absolutely terrifying. Even more so is the idea that you will watch your spouse and children wither away, robbed of the years that you thought you had left with them. While the looming presence of death and decay sets a delicious undertone of tension in Old, it’s far from being the most arresting element of the film.
Where the film is at its strongest is in its honest meditations on the trials of life. A couple remains steadfast and time heals all wounds until all that’s left is a life together. Young people are robbed of a childhood by impulsive, life-altering decisions. Individuals must confront their own mortality and watch their beauty fade or their mind slip. When Old allows these moments to breathe and bloom, the result is deeply emotionally and absolutely gripping. Horrific, in the tragic sense. Unfortunately, these scenes of weight serve as punctuation marks in the narrative rather than a thesis.
Be forewarned, by the time you finish sitting for Old you will feel that you’ve aged 100 years. The runtime of one hour and forty-eight minutes feels like dragging a bloated corpse across the sand. It’s tedious and messy and not fun, in the slightest. Old is most certainly a slow-burn film and a master class in tension building, but the pacing of the overall film is maddeningly slow for a story that focuses on time speeding by. All of that mystery and tension neuters any sense of urgency and that is to Old‘s detriment.
At times, Old is at war with itself and that’s a damn shame. As mentioned previously, the idea of watching your life slip away is already bone-chilling and the individual dramas of the trapped characters are compelling in their own right. Too often Old gets off course and loses itself in a distraction. The stakes are high enough without jamming in a conflict where it doesn’t belong.
Silliness is the terminal illness that Old suffers from. Silliness in the form of mismatched effects and shrill, unfocused performances alongside legitimately good work. Nothing feels cohesive and the entire film is a quilt of these clashing elements. The result is that every masterful performance, every great storytelling moment, and every really well-done aging effect is met with a downright awful performance, a random diversion, and either a lack of aging effects or old-age makeup that looks like it was done for a high school opening night. There’s a lot of good, but the bad cheapens it and the entire value of the piece suffers.
Old will absolutely find its audience with Shyamalan devotees. Where audiences will fall on the film will come down to the strength of those truly elevated moments. Standout performances from the likes of Alex Wolff and Vicky Krieps are absolutely worth taking in and the unfolding drama is super interesting. Definitely an actor’s piece, when Old is at its best. Unfortunately, for this critic, the glitter of greatness is tarnished by the film’s many, many flaws.
- Rating - 3/103/10
Old will absolutely find its audience with Shyamalan devotees. Where audiences will fall on the film will come down to the strength of those truly elevated moments…Unfortunately, for this critic, the glitter of greatness is tarnished by the film’s many, many flaws.
Caitlin is a sweater enthusiast, film critic, and lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began with being shown Rosemary’s Baby at a particularly impressionable age and she’s been hooked ever since. She loves a good bourbon and hates people who talk in movies. Caitlin has been writing since 2014 and you can find her work on Film Inquiry, The Financial Diet, Nightmarish Conjurings, and many others.