M. Night Shyamalan tries to trick us again
And you thought melanoma was bad. The sun-kissed beach in ‘Old’ is an age-accelerant death trap that M. Night “Bruce Willis is a ghost” Shyamalan uses to torture his latest batch of narrative victims. Audiences may feel similarly burnt.
His eerie thriller-with-a-twist, burdened with first-draft characters and exposition-filled dialogue, starts with the arrival of a seemingly happy family at a seemingly beatific tropical resort. Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps), along with their cherubic kids, 6-year-old Trent (Nolan River) and 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton), seem blissfully thrilled to drink their “specially prepared” beverages and kick back at the all-inclusive vacationland.
OLD ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abbey Lee, Aaron Pierre, Alex Wolff
Running time: 108 mins
But why is that pharmaceutical company having a convention there? And why is that skinny blonde talking so much about her calcium deficiency? What about the black woman who collapses into an epileptic seizure? Or Prisca’s own unspecified health issues? “Let’s not bring an irrelevant medical condition into this,” says Guy. Hmmm, doesn’t seem irrelevant to me, but fine.
Guy and Prisca are heading towards a divorce. “You’re always thinking about the past!” says Guy. “You’re always thinking about the future!” says Prisca. I guess they’re mismatched. He’s a forward-thinking actuary, she’s a backward-ruminating museum curator. How do I know their vocations? Everyone makes a point of explaining what they do.
“What’s your name and what do you do for a living?” says precocious Trent to a cop and a dancer. That epileptic woman is a psychologist and she’s married to a male nurse. What about the shuttle driver who takes Guy and Prisca’s family, plus that brittle-bone woman and her brood, to a very private, “once in a lifetime” sandy inlet? Nobody asks, but his name is actually M. Night Shyamalan and he’s the director of the film.
Night gives them all an ungodly amount of food for no logical reason, then takes off after telling them to go through some magical slot canyon that leads them to the beach. Already there: a mysterious rapper with the hella-gangsta name Mid-Sized Sedan. He’s waiting for a pretty girl who went skinny-dipping. She shows up dead. “Oh damn,” says Mid-Sized Sedan.
Mid-Sized Sedan isn’t his real name. “My name is Brendan,” says the rapper to a teenage girl he just met. “I went to private school. My mom is an attorney and my dad is a dentist. Yo, I just wanted somebody to know that.” He also has medical issues. “I have a problem with my blood,” he volunteers. “A rare issue with its clotting.” Nobody asked, but good to know.
Brittle-boned blonde Chrystal (Abbey Lee) is married to a doctor named Charles (Rufus Sewell). “I’m a cardiothoracic surgeon and chief medical officer,” he says more specifically. They brought along his elderly mom, who feels chest pain and then dies. “We’re on a beach with two unrelated dead bodies,” says Guy. “That’s statistically impossible.” He should know, he’s an actuary.
Charles thinks Mid-Sized Sedan Brendan killed the dead blonde. But he refutes it. “Why would I be standing around, bro?” he says indignantly. “Damn.”
The kids go off and play for a few hours, then come back as teenagers. Charles and Chrystal’s daughter Kara (Kyle Bailey) also goes through puberty. “Well, she’s definitely aged,” says Charles at one point.
“Whatever is happening to us is happening really fast,” says Guy. They all conclude that 60 minutes on the beach equals 2 years. It’s super-accelerated dog years. Chrystal brought a dog, by the way. It’s dead now.
Time passes, everyone freaks out, somebody gets pregnant and gives birth within 30 minutes, Charles goes insane, Guy loses his vision, Prisca loses her hearing. All the vacationers wrinkle up and a few more people die.
Old starts to get old pretty quickly, since Shymalan doesn’t do more than set up situations and then film them in a very manic, foreboding way. He’s an incredibly talented director of suspense, and there are more than a few effective moments of spine-tingling dread scattered throughout. But his screenwriting chops remain painfully deficient with every on-screen utterance and clunky plot point.
Old is based on a European graphic novel called “Sandcastle,” by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, which incidentally has a different ending. In a recent interview, Peeters explained that they toyed with a twist ending, but decided against it. “It’s not a thriller,” he said. “It’s a fable.” Shyamalan disagreed.
If only Mid-Sized Sedan Brendan had known. “I am freaked, man,” he says. “This was supposed to be a zen trip, man.” Guess not. Oh damn.