A family arrives at a fancy resort for an overdue vacation. The hotel manager pulls them aside and talks about a secret beach he only tells special guests about. The Cappa family, composed of Guy (Gael García Bernal), Prisca (Vicky Krieps), and their two children, Maddox and Trent, arrive at this beautiful hidden spot with a few other strangers. This includes egotistical doctor Charles (Rufus Sewell), his much younger model wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), and their daughter. Married couple Jarin (Ken Lueng) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) arrive soon after. Everything is idyllic between the parties until six-year-old Trent finds a woman’s nude body in the water.
Said body soon turns into a skeleton, and everyone on the beach realizes they are aging fast — and worse, they can’t leave the beach without blacking out. What happens when you have a health problem while you’re rapidly aging, especially if a critical diagnosis and treatment can’t be made within minutes? Or more distressingly, what about small children becoming teenagers in a matter of hours? The horror of this — a mixture of physical, emotional, and of course, existential — is at the center of Old.
This review contains mild spoilers for Old.
M. Night Shyamalan (director and writer), Mike Gioulakis (cinematographer), Brett M. Reed (editor)
Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aaron Pierre, Thomasin McKenzie, Eliza Scanlen, and Alex Wolff (cast)
Based on Sandcastle by Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederick Peeters
July 23, 2021
The film is based upon a French graphic novel called Sandcastle, which follows 13 people who find themselves stuck on a mysterious beach where everyone will age and die within a day. According to Entertainment Weekly, M. Night Shyamalan was gifted a copy of Sandcastle by his daughters, and he was drawn to it because “it’s incredibly visual and Twilight Zone–y and it has an enigmatic ending.” Like any adaption, Shyamalan made changes, the ending in particular.
With the relative success of Split and Glass, the writer/director has mostly redeemed himself from being the butt of jokes. (I do think that The Village, one of his so called “bad” movies, is great and is a Halloween favorite of mind.) Old does contain one of the director’s better cameos, and it’s definitely on the better side of his filmography. Even if I think the film could have been stronger if it was shorter and a tad more ambiguous, it could still fit right in with the rest of the Twilight Zone oeuvre — I mean that as a compliment.
Old, despite its faults, is thought-provoking science fiction horror. I left the theater wondering what would happen next to the characters and the world they inhabit. However, its themes could have been stronger if the film was shorter. Tension is dragged out, yes, but it often comes across as filling time before the next reveal.
The problems in Old are obvious. Some of the dialogue is unnaturally full of exposition. A child’s game is used as an excuse to have characters recite names and occupations. But when the adults list their jobs to each other during arguments it’s a little too on the nose. And it’s best to not think too hard about the aging science and enjoy the ride. The ending may feel like too much to viewers since most of the questions are answered by its conclusion — another example of where less is more.
The cinematography and acting make up for whatever the plot lacks. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis’ steady camera work and long shots add suspense to the reveals, even if the audience knows what’s coming. Old is longer than its story demands, but the quieter character moments have heart behind them. I wish I could write more about the cast, however, I’m afraid it would put us in spoiler territory. Everyone gives strong performances, and the casting changes as characters age are pretty seamless. I’ll give special mention to Aaron Pierre as Brendon, a famous rapper whose stage name is the amazing “Mid-Sized Sedan.”
Old also pushes what can be shown with a PG-13 rating (though I do think your mind filling in the blanks is often scarier). When the film does decide to show the body horror, it’s brutal. There is a memorable sequence in a cave near the end of the movie that is creatively gruesome.
Lastly, I will warn that two of the children (who are in the bodies of teenagers) have sex offscreen. This is portrayed as a horrible thing and leads into one of the more upsetting scenes in the movie. I can understand how certain viewers may not want to watch this.
If you miss going to the movies and feel safe doing so, Old is a worthy return to the theatre. But if you’re more interested in a bigger showing like Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, Old is a great film to check out later on demand, too. If not, enjoy the memes.