July 24, 2021

Review: Shyamalan is Back on Top in Surreal Thriller “Old”

This afternoon, I tried explaining the entire plot of M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller Old to my mother, who promised me she was never going to watch it. After doing the best I could, I realized how absurd and nonsensical it sounded coming out of my mouth. The story, but all rights, is relatively simple, so I had no idea why I couldn’t do it justice. Maybe I’m just bad at explaining the plots of films I enjoy.

Then I realized: Old is an experience. The eerie one-word title and promising plot twists don’t mean too much at all when you’re not watching them onscreen. Shyamalan’s films have always been twisty and turny, but Old is something else entirely — it’s visceral, profound, disturbing, depressing, and everywhere in between.

As I mentioned before, it’s hard to summarize Old, but the premise isn’t too difficult to wrap one’s head around: two parents, close to separation, bring their kids to a tropical resort. One day, they visit a beach with two other families and quickly discover they’re unable to leave. What’s worse — their cells are rapidly aging, and if they don’t find a way off the beach, they could live through their entire lives in one day.

See what I meant about it being intense? Old confronts the fears of aging head-on, albeit in a fantastical manner. No one and nothing is safe, and so the stakes have never been higher. It makes for amazingly tense viewing, as you literally have no idea what could happen next. When you’re always on the edge of your seat, you know you’re watching a solid thriller.

The cast is also at their best here. I can’t ignore some career-best performances from Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie and Eliza Scanlen. Of course, these are all young actors, just getting started, but they’re making impressive dents in the industry already. These are talents to watch out for, and seeing them paired on screen with the likes of Vicky Krieps, Gael García Bernal and Rufus Sewell, among many others, is a real treat. I don’t mean to point this out in a movie about getting old, but the multi-generational talent on display here is nothing short of excellent. Since they’re all stuck on a beach for the entire length of the film, it’s definitely a good thing that they all play well off each other.

As a side note, I thought Thomasin McKenzie reached her high point in Jojo Rabbit. I was wrong. Now I think she’s topped herself with Old, I am prepared to be blown away by her starring role in Edgar Wright’s October 2021 thriller Last Night in Soho.

All the Shyamalan trademarks are there: a creepy tone, unique storytelling, gorgeous cinematography (though ironically enough, none in his hometown of Philadelphia, a first for his career), and, of course, the man himself makes a cameo. Unlike his previous acting appearances, though, his character in Old is actually important to the story — even now, after 30 years, he’s perfecting his craft. That’s real dedication.

There’s a lot to love about Old — it’s full of imaginative ideas, gripping visuals, and it has an unnervingly well-done soundtrack to boot. Even though it’s adapted from the Swiss graphic novel Sandcastle, it’s a perfect conduit for M. Night Shyamalan’s storytelling ability. I hate clichés, but I can confidently say that this is Shyamalan returning to the basics of what put him on the map in the first place, without sacrificing any of that very same creativity.

When this experience is over, your faith in Shyamalan will either be renewed or permanently shaken. I, for one, have a renewed excitement about whatever comes next — so long as it doesn’t make me fear for my mortality nonstop for two hours. I think I’m good on that for now. 
[Grade: A-]

Director/Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Vicky Krieps, Gael García Bernal, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie
Rated: PG-13 for strong violence, disturbing images, suggestive content, partial nudity and brief strong language
Available: On Demand
Fun Fact: The film starring Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando that Charles is trying to think of throughout Old is The Missouri Breaks, a western from 1976.

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