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Old review (2021) – a family vacation turned lifelong nightmare

A sunny holiday has never been more threatening

Our Verdict

A movie that has a brilliant concept but is hindered by a messy twist. Old has some great moments, and stands as one of Shyamalan’s more enjoyable films in recent years.

There is something incredibly unsettling and affecting about M. Night’s Shyamalan’s new movie Old. A thriller movie with horror-esque elements, the film calls upon the deep and universal human fear of death, as we see a family trapped on a supernatural beach where time moves at super speed, and lives can potentially end in a day.

Just the concept of accelerated age is existentially terrifying in itself, so seeing a family physically change in front of your eyes makes Old one of M. Night Shyamalan’s most emotional features to date, despite a somewhat haphazard ending. Based on Pierre Oscar Levy’s and Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel Sandcastle, the movie follows the Cappa family who go on a vacation to an idyllic but suspicious resort.

Prisca (Vicky Krieps), an archaeologist with an illness, and insurance agent Guy (Gael García Bernal) are a couple on the rocks. Deciding to have a final family vacation together before they separate, they bring their kids, six-year-old Trent and eleven-year-old Maddox, on a tropical getaway. However, as soon as they reach the mysterious resort and are greeted by eerily positive employees, viewers are immediately put on edge.

The Cappas are taken to a private beach along with two other families, and the plot turns into a tense, contained race against time. They find themselves ageing rapidly and watch, horrified as their young children morph into adults. Shyamalan does a phenomenal job at focusing on base emotions, driving the script with fear and capturing the sheer desperation felt by the characters who try to escape the cove before their bodies completely deteriorate.

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However, visuals and sound are at the forefront of the feature, playing with our senses to trigger an emotional response. The sound mixing of the ocean lowering and rising during key moments and the pointed camera work that hyper focuses on striking (or should we say downright disturbing) imagery successfully makes you feel uncomfortable. As viewers feel their hearts race, thanks to the movie’s body horror and M. Night’s sensory composition, higher stakes are put onto the character’s survival, as if their trauma and fears have become our own. All these elements make Old as a whole feel extremely immersive, but where the movie struggles is when it strays away from this simple and emotive storytelling.

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Shyamalan is no stranger to controversial endings or twists that don’t always pay off. Unfortunately, despite such a strong opening, Old’s conclusion feels messy. Straying away from the original ending of the graphic novel, Old presents a conspiracy behind the mysterious imprisonment of the resort guests and tries to offer some semblance of closure intertwined with attempted social commentary. But did we really need that closure, or a drawn-out explanation to every philosophical question hinted at in the script? No.

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On paper, the movie’s ‘big reveal’ shouldn’t be so jarring considering the subtle foreshadowing throughout the film. But in reality, with clumsy expositional monologues, and lengthy scenes that take you out of the suspenseful atmosphere, Old’s ending feels somewhat juvenile in comparison to the rest of its universally terrifying story.

But, questionable conclusions aside, you still can’t deny the beautiful simplicity of Old’s concept or the cast’s stellar performances throughout the feature. Krieps and Bernal perfectly capture the assertive parental nature that we see adults take during moments of crisis. Similarly, Alex Wolff (playing a teenage Trent) and Thomasin Mckenzie (an adolescent Maddox) carry extreme emotions of confusion as they both try and navigate sudden adulthood. The actors portray some beautifully touching moments while also managing to embody the very human and frantic fear of death and the ageing process.

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It’s a pity that Shyamalan tried to overcomplicate Old when really it thrives on being so straightforward and devoid of convoluted narrative distractions. It’s a feature that makes you feel, as opposed to think, and once it tries during its last 20 minutes to shift that dynamic, it falters. But with a talented cast, and some solid sound mixing that will get your adrenaline pumping, Old is also a movie that you are unlikely to forget, and still stands as one of Shyamalan’s more enjoyable titles in recent years.