The genesis of M. Night Shyamalan’s new Universal thriller Old began, quite literally, as a gift. For Father’s Day one year, the director’s three daughters, Saleka, Shivani, and Ishana, gave him a moody, meditative, thought-provoking 2011 graphic novel, Sandcastle, by French writer Pierre Oscar Lévy and artist Frederik Peeters.
The graphic novel, about a group of people vacationing on a secluded beach who discover that they are aging rapidly, immediately sparked Shyamalan’s imagination and now a new film from Universal.
Telling a story with a family at its core was especially personal for Shyamalan, who recently has been giving much thought to the passage of time in his own life as his parents and his children grow older.
For the first time on one of his features, the writer-director worked with his daughter Ishana, who served as second-unit director for Old (she previously wrote and directed episodes of her father’s series Servant).
“It’s funny, the movie is about seeing your children grow up so fast—that’s the feeling that I wanted to capture,” the filmmaker says. “In real life, my children have grown up now, and they’re amazing artists. Leaving home to make a movie was scary for me—having Ishana there made me feel like I never left home. That gave me a lot of courage, just to have her on one side of the beach shooting second unit while I was shooting over here. At the end of the day, we would go and have dinner together. It was just us two sometimes. It kept me centered on the storytelling of Old.”
Additionally, Shyamalan’s daughter Saleka, a classical pianist turned R&B artist who releases her debut album this year, wrote a song for Old, first performed by Alexa Swinton as Maddox Capa and later by Thomasin McKenzie.
“The idea of seeing a little girl that ends up becoming this beautiful singer is our experience with our oldest daughter, Saleka,” M. Night Shyamalan says. “When she was a baby, she used to sing in the car, and we went, ‘Wow, she isn’t going to be a singer’ because she was so bad! Now, she is one of the most beautiful singers in the world! I can’t believe that I actually said those words and that she grew up to be this thing.
“That feeling of [how] your own children astonish you, what they become, I wanted to feel that on screen,” Shyamalan continues. “I’m mimicking a lot of the emotions that happened to me.”
Old’s official description says: From visionary filmmaker M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN comes Old— a chilling, mysterious new thriller about a family on a tropical holiday who discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly … reducing their entire lives into a single day.
Old is now in theaters.