M. Night Shyamalan directs Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps and Thomasin McKenzie in this supernatural thriller where a group of holidaymakers find themselves trapped on a beach that ages them fifty years in one day.
No spoilers but Old is far better than you’ve been led to believe… with the caveat that this being Shyamalan there’s plenty to criticise too. If you can put to the back of your mind his house style (overly sincere mood, pointless last minute twists, exposition dialogue that clunks out of characters mouths, an almost deadpan autistic acting requirement, gifting himself extended cameos that wink at the camera with a dastardly blandness) then this manages to rinse plenty of thrills, mystery and moments of iconic shock. The middle 70 minutes on that beach is brightly lit nightmare fuel, served by a storyteller who rarely lets up on piling on the pressure and dread. I’ve read a lot of reviews and am surprised nobody has mentioned Luis Buñuel. Shyamalan traps the bourgeoisie in a place and will not let them exit, they begin to behave erratically, abandoning societal rules and sanity in a series of surreal set pieces. Even if the ensemble is purposefully stiff (after 6 films in this declarative mode we need to accept it as a stylistic choice), Krieps and McKenzie still stand out, sneaking a little warmth and accessibility into their totems. Mike Gioulakis’ outstanding cinematography uses film and it lends the sea and the sand an air of shimmering unreality. Much as those auteurs who chose to make black and white films in the Eighties and Nineties were trying to separate their vision from the pack, it feels like the choice to shoot on celluloid here is done to give the movie an overriding sense of “otherness” compared to contemporary flat digital content. That camera darts around, seemingly untethered by normal rules of editing or shot composition but it allows Shyamalan to achieve some pretty effective sleights of hand. For example, the awkward ageing of the children into adults is cleverly kept just out of frame, tantalisingly so, allowing your own imagination to fill in those body horror blanks. There are a lot of later “surprises” that I want to comment on or at least make snarky jokes about but that’d be unfair. I left the cinema feeling like this was his best work since The Village but also a bit deflated by the underwhelming reveal. Yet Old is certainly this much maligned director’s best movie in a long old time, one I feel might age gracefully and build a cult following. And those finer qualities have stayed at the forefront of my thoughts this week, so I may just join that cult.
Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk
We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/