VOD film review: Old
James R | On 31, Oct 2021
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alexa Swinton, Nolan River, Aaron Pierre, Abbey Lee, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird
Hands up if you’ve ever regretted sitting out in the sun too long after a trip to the coast. That sense of skin-prickling discomfort is vividly captured by M Night Shyamalan in Old, a high-concept horror that takes the way that an afternoon at the beach can rush by the blink of an eye and runs with it all the way to the creepy bank.
Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle, Shyamalan’s gloriously overheated thriller is at once born of cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned Twilight Zone creakiness. Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisco (Vicky Krieps) are a married couple on a luxe getaway with their kids, six-year-old Trent (Nolan River) and 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton). During their stay, they take a trip to a secluded, exclusive beach on the island. There, they find a group of other hotel guests also extended the invite: rich music star Brendan (Aaron Pierre), surgeon Charles (Rufus Sewell) and his wife, Crystal (Abbey Lee), plus their daughter, Kara (Kylie Begley), and his mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), and nurse Jarin (Ken Leung) and his wife, psychologist Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird).
After initially, awkwardly attempting to get along, they begin to explore their surroundings, only to discover that they can’t leave the beach. Meanwhile, strange things start to happen. Grey hairs appear on Guy’s temples. Trent and Maddox get a serious growth spurt. Charles starts to lose his grip on what’s around him. And Agnes becomes frightfully frail. Vision starts to worsen, hearing starts to go, and wounds repair themselves in seconds. Time, quite simply, won’t play ball.
So far, so silly, but there’s an eeriness in that silliness that Shyamalan is perhaps singularly able to extract, thanks to his unwavering ability to tell stories that are simultaneously playful and earnest. Recalling one of the best set pieces in Interstellar, the result is a tale of the unexpected that’s at once grippingly tense thanks to its single location – filmed beautifully as the sun glides past overhead – and intriguingly ambitious in its wider philosophical scope. This is a film that tips us into the twilight of human mortality, where characters have to navigate growing pains and coming-of-age confusion while coming to terms with the fact that both are but fleeting flashes in the pan of the universe.
The cast are certainly game, from Sewell’s increasingly suspicious and paranoid old man to Nikki Amuka-Bird’s calmer presence, who keeps trying to get everyone to talk through their emotions. Neither feel like rational responses to such an extreme situation, and the adults do well at bringing an uncanny valley consistency to their behaviour while the child cast are seamlessly swapped out (Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie both join the ensemble halfway through). It’s Bernal and Krieps, though, who leave the biggest impression, as they fall in and out of love and trust in a matter of minutes, finding reconciliation in the way that they are still there for each other even after decades of conflict and secrets.
Why is all of this happening? That’s where Old partly loses its impact, as Shyamalan introduces ideas of his own into the mix. But he concocts a thought-provoking cocktail of ideas and questions that lingers after the end credits roll, swirling around positives and negatives of time’s unstoppable march and letting us soak up the ambiguity as the shadows on screen ominously become longer. Released as the country attempts to resume some semblance of normality after 2020’s Covid-19 outbreak, Shyamalan’s ability to both stretch out existence into an endless limbo and compact it into unsettlingly brief flourishes has an unnerving resonance. Not since Philomena Cunk has there been an exploration of time that’s so ridiculous and yet so strangely profound.