Ever since director M. Night Shyamalan got effectively banned from directing big budget movies after the debacle that was 2013’s “After Earth”, I feel like he’s gotten back into the groove of directing at least decent smaller budget films, as I thought 2015’s “The Visit” was above average, 2016’s “Split” was great, and I’ve heard mixed things about 2019’s “Glass”, but it has its fans. His newest film, “Old”, which is based off the Swedish novel “Sandcastle” has critics and audiences split, with it receiving 50 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes among critics, and 52 percent positive reviews among audiences. So how was it?
Having gone in blind without reading the book its based on or seeing any trailers, I think it’s just as good as “The Visit.” The film’s premise is that a group of vacationers get stuck on a beach they can’t leave surrounded by rocks (if they try to go past the rocks, they black out, and if they try to swim out, they drown) that rapidly age their cells. Any children brought there will soon age into adults, cuts and wounds heal in seconds, and any adults brought there don’t have long before they’re elderly.
Our main cast consists of Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca Cappa (Vicky Krieps), a married couple who wanted to give their children one last vacation before their divorce, their children Trent (multiple actors: Nolan River at age 6, Luca Faustino Rodriguez at age 11, Alex Wolff at age 15, and Emun Elliott as an adult) and Maddox (multiple actresses: Alexa Swinton at age 11, Thomasin McKenzie at age 16; and Embeth Davidtz as an adult); a surgeon named Charles (Rufus Sewell) and his younger, self-obsessed wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their daughter Kara (Kylie Begley at age 6, Mikaya Fisher at age 11, and Eliza Scanlen at age 15) and his mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant); a nurse named Jarin Carmichael (Ken Leung) and his wife, Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who is a psychiatrist who has epilepsy; and the rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), who has hemophilia.
Most of the horror in this film comes from the fact that most of these people are strangers trapped into a stressful situation, and it helps that early on, their fun, sunny day is interrupted by the body of Mid-Sized Sedan’s missing partner washing up on the beach, which immediately puts everyone at odds with each other. Charles in particular causes havoc in the group, as he suffers from schizophrenia and is one of the most distrustful members of the group, but he is also one of the most useful, with his medical skills being vital in a few instances.
There’s also a lot to be said about how Trent, Maddox and Kara’s actors managed to build continuity between their characters, as although they age, they are still mentally the same age. And the casting choices do clearly work — there isn’t any awkward transitions from one actor to the next as their character grows older.
As expected, there is a twist in this film that explains what is really going on with the beach, and it works for the film well enough if you don’t think about it for more than five seconds. But it’s interesting enough, and as far as Shyamalan’s endings go, it is nowhere near his worst one, and it allows a good enough emotional payoff at the end that I didn’t really care how stupid it was.
This is definitely not one of Shyamalan’s best films, but it is also nowhere near his worst one. I have no doubts that the book is better than this film, but as a standalone story, it works, is shot well enough, its characters are just good enough to keep you interested, and it’s nice to see a horror/thriller that’s shot entirely on a sunny beach work. For me, it’s a slightly above average entry in Shyamalan’s filmography.
“Old” gets a 7.5/10