M. Night “It’s Getting Old” Shyamalan is back for another round of the supernatural and the underwhelming. The gimmick this time? A beach where a day ages you a lifetime.
Gaze for a moment upon the vicissitudes of M. Night Shyamalan’s career. Since The Sixth Sense, which made the director a household name over 20 years ago, his critical reputation has seen him fall from bona fide wunderkind to black sheep (apropos of which, I believe that this is exactly the reputation Quentin Tarantino should have, but that’s an argument for another time). Aside from what increasingly looks like an aberration with Split, normal service—disappointing horror, weak casting, gimmicky concepts—has since been resumed.
In his latest film Old, starring Vicky Krieps, Gael García Bernal and a star-studded supporting cast, we’re introduced to a family seeking a break from their domestic troubles at an opulent tropical resort. They’re persuaded by the kindly hotelier to take a trip to a remote beach, and—this being an M. Night Shyamalan movie—things go south from there, for character and viewer alike.
None of the casting ensemble stand out from the crowd. Rufus Sewell’s paranoid surgeon Charles is about as interesting as the characters get, but his delivery lacks conviction. Thomasin McKenzie is the second of three actors to play Amanda—one of the children who ages through the generations—but her New Zealand accent is confusing when the other two playing her are American. Perhaps it’s just a phase? The phase everyone goes through in their life where they start speaking in a New Zealand accent. The fact I’m thinking so much about this minutiae indicates my attention was lost by the film, and it wasn’t just uninvolving performances that did so. A dear absence of plot development did much of the damage.
Events reach the beach early in the first act, and it becomes apparent that everybody there is ageing at a rate that’ll leave them all dead within a day. Trapped there by flimsy exposition, there are various forlorn escape attempts and the occasional spooky sighting, but nothing substantial to keep the narrative going. Among the non-plot, a section in which two young children go through puberty, have sex, give birth to a child, and become grieving parents in all of 15-minutes stands out for its stupidity. Only that, and visuals reminiscent of Jurassic Park, were left to occupy me as the Caribbean And Then There Were None-homage proceeded as prosaically as it could.
So far, a key word has been unmentioned. Taking a look at Old’s promotional website, that word is even more conspicuous by its absence. You’ll see “mystery” and “thriller”, but the most important descriptor is missing. Horror. Someone has scrubbed off the word horror. It’s like they’re ashamed to admit that this is a horror film. The defence has credence—truth is Old isn’t very scary. Turgid, yes—lots of unpleasant things happen to lots of people—but scary? I’m not convinced. Maybe next time I’m at a resort and the manager recommends me an isolated beach I’ll think twice, but that’s about it. This is surprisingly PG13 in tone, many of the deaths are bloodless and held-back, decomposing skeletons are spoken of but never shown. Such restraint suggests there’s more potential to the rapid-aging conceit than Shyamalan seems willing to explore here.
Naturally, it wouldn’t be an M. Night Shyamalan movie without a twist ending, and sure enough… there isn’t one. That the resort (actually an evil corporation) has trapped the guests on the beach for one reason or another isn’t new information, nor does the revelation of a villainous motive reinvent or redeem a passable flick from its ignominious fate.
If M. Night Shyamalan invites you to go to the Caribbean, decline. You won’t age to death on his secret time-beach (which he actually leads victims to in the movie. Boy is that some symbolism), but you will wish he was spoiling someone else’s holiday.
Words by Alex Crisp
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