We’ ve all gone to the beach with expectations of working on our tans and destressing, as our ears capture the relaxing roar of waves crashing onto the sand. Unfortunately, a sad percentage of these trips have resulted in disappointment. The ocean’s too cold. It’s too windy. The sun has inexplicably decided to play Hide ‘n Seek with the clouds. While bad, none of these bad beach days amounts to the horror that awaits the families in M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller, Old.
Old is a film that perpetuates the idea that staying in the sun too long will age you, but so will watching this film.
Before I go any further, I just want to say there is not a film M. Night has made that I’m not rooting for to be good. His first two and a half films – The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and the first two acts of Signs – are nothing short of brilliant.
Then, the director went through a period of mediocre films where the twists were not what he scripted, but the mediorce performances of the cast – The Village and The Happening.
Finally, there are the movies the Philadelphia filmmaker has made that are mind-numbingly bad. Those would include Lady in the Water, After Earth, The Last Airbender.
Over the last couple of years, it has felt like M. Night found his groove again with the astounding Split, which truly caught me and audiences off-guard with its Unbreakable twist. His Apple TV+ series Servant, now filming its third season, has been an unmitigated quirky joy.
The problem with the filmmaker is that for every Split there is The Visit and the terrible closure to the Eastrail 177 trilogy, Glass.
So, where does that leave us with Old, the director’s first foray into filmmaking outside of the Philadelphia area? Unfortunately, the answer is as expected as the film’s bland twist – somewhere in the middle.
When Old, based on the thought-provoking 2011 graphic novel, Sandcastle, by French writer Pierre Oscar Lévy and artist Frederik Peeters, opens, husband and wife Guy and Prisca Capa (Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps) are embarking on what will be their last vacation together as a family with 11-year-old daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and six-year-old son Trent (Nolan River). Guy and Prisca are planning to divorce, but they haven’t yet told their kids.
Arriving at the resort, the Capas are blown away by the high-end service. They’re greeted by the resort manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) and his assistant Madrid (Francesca Eastwood) with cocktails tailored to their tastes. The children are just as excited.
Maddox shyly takes note of the athletic teenage boys all around, and her outgoing brother Trent befriends a boy his own age. The two new pals even develop their own special visual language, a code that only they can decipher, which they use to pass secret messages to one another.
Despite the tension between Guy and Prisca, the Capas are excited to receive a special invitation to an exclusive and isolated beach operated by the resort. Soon, they and the children are boarding a shuttle for a day-trip of surf, sun and sand. Shyamalan does his Hitchcock impersonation here as he plays the friendly(?) shuttle driver.
Joining them on the trip is another family: an intense cardiothoracic surgeon, Charles, (Rufus Sewell), his elderly mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), his much younger privileged wife, Chrystal (Abbey Lee), and their six-year-old daughter, Kara (Kylie Begley).
The driver delivers them to their destination, pulling to the side of the road and directing his passengers to follow a path that will lead them toward the water.
When the characters first emerge onto the beach through a striated slot canyon, they’re rendered nearly speechless by the majesty of the scenery. It’s a paradise. Secluded, surrounded by a towering, which becomes an imposing, rock wall. There is a coral reef about one hundred yards out in the ocean which features roaring waves. It’s Heaven.
Not so fast. Shortly after Charles’ wife Chrystal, determined to attract attention in a brilliant marigold bikini, has turned herself into an Instagram stereotype, young Trent makes a horrible discovery.
This discovery will lead the tourists down a terrifying path of discovery about themselves and each other as they all begin to rapidly age. The once idyllic setting quickly devolves into a creeping sense of claustrophobia as the families realize that they’ve entered a place with no obvious way out.
There are many things to appreciate about Old and that is due to the performances of the international, talented cast. With a family being thrown into this life-threatening situation, we have to believe the characters. Luckily, we do.
Luxembourg-born, Berlin-based actor Vicky Krieps, best known for her highly acclaimed performance in the Oscar-nominated drama Phantom Thread, brings a combination of strength and vulnerability to mother Prisca.
As the Capas have grown increasingly distant from one another, Mexican-born Gael García Bernal naturally personifies Guy as a man who has become frozen in stasis, seemingly unable or unwilling to allow himself to take any action that might help repair their union. We aren’t sure if Guy is more afraid of losing Prisca or losing his family.
The real gems of the film are the kids-turned adults played by Nolan River/Alex Wolf as Trent and Alexa Swinton/ Thomasin McKenz as sibling, Maddox. The four actors bring an empathetic gravitas to the roles of Trent and Maddox, as the two children age from 6 and 11 to… well we won’t give it away. But their performances are genuine and we feel the brother/sister love between the two.
They bring new gravitas to the saying, “Children grow up so fast.”
From a production standpoint, composer Trevor Gureckis’ score inhabits unique sonic territory. Once it becomes clear that things on the beach are amiss, drums assume a more prominent place in his score, evoking the notion of the irrevocable march of time.
As the tension mounts and stranger events unfold, the composer introduces off-kilter instruments to heighten the sense of uncertainty and confusion.
And the cinematography by is Michael Gioulakis (Us, Glass, Servant) successfully captures the idyllic setting and turns it into a claustrophobic hell.
But while there are so many good things about Old, these elements just can’t overcome the eventual explanation that Shyamalan provides for why these people are aging on this beach. In other words, the twist gets old very quickly.
Bottom Line: Old is a REEL wait ’til streaming.