We’ve all had family vacations that make us feel like we’ve grown old. Save a thought then for the unfortunate vacationers at Old, M. Night Shyamalan’s old and new surprise in theaters now.
The writer / director of The Sixth Sense,other adapted the story from the 2010 Swiss graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. In this sun-spattered big screen version, Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps play a married couple on their last vacation before breaking devastating news to their children. But the marital dispute is the least of your worries when the smooth and creepy manager of your too-good-to-be-true resort offers use of a private beach. It is perfect; the kind of place you might want to spend the rest of your life. Which may be the case, as the assembled bathers realize that they are beginning to age at an accelerating rate.
The idyllic setting offers a ghoulish contrast to the terror that ensues. As the waves crash and the sun goes down, this unfortunate group discovers that their bodies begin to betray them in a succession of horrific moments of body horror.
Basically, Old is like everythingcompressed into a episode. Fortunately, the group includes a surgeon and a nurse, who are asked to use their skills in ways they could never have imagined. Rufus Sewell is in command as the dominant doctor who may actually be the most sinister threat on the beach, while Nikki Amuka-Bird is both comical and heartbreaking as a psychologist trying not to lose control. And Ken Leung is the little ostentatious heart of the cast.
Many supernatural stories of furry dogs like The Twilight Zone andYou suffer from the same problem – you know a big turn is coming, and your attention wanders when you realize you want to move on to explanation. Shyamalan is partially to blame for that since The Sixth Sense’s infamous last-minute carpet pull, but perhaps fittingly for a movie that cautions against wishing for your life, Old avoids this, as the premise promises to be more interesting than any explanation. possible. . In fact, Old has such a rich and gruesome concept that a clear explanation could only diminish it. So the ending of the film is perhaps its weakest part, when Shyamalan turns away from the abstract philosophizing of the graphic novel.
Facing age and death in such a direct way is a chilling concept, but you have to fill in a lot of the blanks yourself. Shyamalan leans toward the scares of the capital H horror piece rather than letting existential dread seep through the character’s dynamics. Abby Lee, in particular, deserves so much more than playing a beautiful but perfunctory trophy wife, while Garcia Bernal is inexplicably anonymous throughout. There are plenty of opportunities for chilling and exhilarating emotional horror in the relationship between a vain young woman and an arrogant older man, or an awkward preteen who’s unprepared for what’s next. But Old offers next to nothing about the pressure on children to grow up, a subject approached much more intelligently and poignantly in Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade drama.
Shyamalan outlines part of this human drama with throwaway lines here and there, but otherwise seeks more superficial emotions. Which brings us to the obligatory reflection on how this story resonates in the era of COVID-19. The graphic novel predates the pandemic, but the film was shot in late 2020. You would think that a cataclysm that robbed many of our parents and grandparents might spark a deeper reflection on our last moments with our elders, but the movie can not face anything so deep. Why delve into deeper emotional fears and anxieties when you can afford an impromptu surgery or a slightly ridiculous fight?
Similarly, after the backlash against Shyamalan’s portrayal of a murderer with Dissociative identity disorder In the 2016 thriller Split, the writer-director doubles down with monstrous depictions of mental illness and physical disabilities. But these moments of body terror are more silly than terrifying.
These scenes are also reminiscent of the much scarier blood work ofother director Ari Aster (not helped by the presence of Hereditary’s son, Alex Wolff). A big part of Aster’s style is jarring editing and baffling cinematography, which the old folks seem to aspire to but can’t fully commit to.
These aren’t the only embarrassing things about Old. There’s also Shyamalan’s trademark forced dialogue. One character turns out to be a famous rapper named, I’m not kidding, “Midsize Sedan.” And although the film insists on racial issues, it is shocking that a black character is presented and framed as a mute and threatening figure, a cheap and unpleasant ploy.
Old takes advantage of the powerful and chilling fears about age and mortality, about your body failing, about watching your parents crumble and fade and knowing that you will follow too soon. If only he knew what to do with that existential fear beyond the shocks. Oh good; Life is a beach and then you die.
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