It was 1999 when director M. Night Shyamalan directed one of the great horror films, "The Sixth Sense," a film that changed the landscape of genre filmmaking moving into the new millennium. Fast-forward 22 years later, and the director is still composing his brand of a scary movie with old school "Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits" vibes with the newest entry "Old."
In "Old," a group of vacationers looking for a relaxing day at a beach encounter a strange anomaly that rapidly ages them. Making thirty minutes resemble about a year of life. The Shyamalan story, borrowed from the 2010 graphic novel "Sandcastle" by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, preys on the fears associated with time and the questions that arise when life disappears in the blink of an eye.
Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are on vacation at a remote paradise island with their two kids Trent (Nolan River) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton). The beautiful resort, which greets its guests at the door with a fancy drink and offers lodging in glass-walled rooms, feels too good to be true. Guy and Prisca struggle with their relationship and use this getaway to escape the reality of their situation, one that feels already finalized once they return home. An invitation to visit a remote beach feels like the perfect adventure for Guy, Prisca, and their kids. However, once on the secluded sandy piece of paradise, strange events begin to happen. Trent and Maddox begin to outgrow their swimsuits, the adults develop wrinkles on their faces, and a dead body rapidly decomposes. The group realizes the beach is making them to age rapidly, causing them to desperately search for a way off the coast before their time runs out.
"Old" is equal parts silly and thought-provoking. Shyamalan, who has always had a knack for turning a "Twilight Zone" episode into something bigger, writes a film that wants to talk about the deeper existential complexities of the aging process but instead remains a surface-level body horror thriller.
Now, don't get me wrong, there is still fun with the sensations and spectacle introduced every few minutes in "Old." Watching young Trent (played older by Alex Wolff) and Maddox (played older by Thomasin McKenzie) age into teenagers with a new understanding of emotions is amusing. Seeing a cardiothoracic surgeon, played with glee by Rufus Sewell, mumble about forgetting which movie Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson starred in while also performing a gory beach surgery will make you smile and squirm. During the visceral moments, the director's restraint does a great job of allowing the viewer to connect the dots independently, which is often far scarier than seeing the event. At times the camera will circle like a ticking clock or sway back and forth like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. These technical pieces assist in adding tension.
Shyamalan understands how to evoke the big emotions in "Old" but misses the smaller, more interesting pieces that ultimately get left behind or interrupted for the big scare or twist. But in small moments, Shyamalan taps into the fear and trauma of the aging process with clever insights during unexpected scenes. One is when Maddox, who has aged into the caretaker role for her sibling and parents, walks into the ocean waves reciting positive affirmations to help her understand the situation she is tasked. This moment connects to the inevitable role some adults will take with elderly parents and children. Another is when Guy begins to have vision issues, and Prisca starts losing her hearing, the moment plays with subtlety. Both characters refuse to acknowledge the problem; instead, they hide it and modify their physical positions to fit their new health concerns. Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps are excellent in these smaller moments.
"Old" spends most of its nearly 2-hour runtime indulging in its horror and thriller genre characteristics. While these moments are amusing within the film's premise, Shyamalan never unites these pieces to the ultimate horror of time being taken from someone. The memories, the feelings, the experiences, the whole reason why these people are desperate to escape the beach, are pushed into small scenes that rarely spend enough time to connect the sentiments to the situation. While "Old" sets up an engaging premise with amusing character turns, the final result will fade from memory faster than time passes on this beach.
Movie Score: 2.5/5