It’s fitting that M. Night Shyamalan based Old on a graphic novel entitled Sandcastle, as he builds the movie on an intriguing idea, only to spend 108 minutes letting it wash out to sea. And don’t get it twisted: I’ve enjoyed Shyamalan’s best work, and I really wanted to add this one to that list. Unfortunately, Old starts off shaky, teases us with a decent second act, and crumbles into goop during a howlingly bad finale. Let me sum it all up with a dad joke: Old ain’t gonna age well.
We open on a youngish couple. Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are traveling to an exotic beach resort, with their son Trent (Nolan River) and daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) in tow. Right away, this hotel starts putting off some real Twilight Zone vibes: The staff are overly friendly, but in a stilted, “Welcome to Jonestown” kinda way. To make things even more awkward, we learn that Guy and Prisca are creeping toward an eventual divorce. This vacation represents one last burst of joy for the kids.
Meanwhile, a group of Gilligan-style clichés have also descended onto this beautiful nightmare: Charles (Rufus Sewell) is a haughty heart surgeon who plays the Millionaire. Chrystal, a vain bikini model, would be the Millionaire’s Wife. Resourceful nurse Jarin (Ken Leung) subs in for the Professor. Shyamalan cameos as a spooky driver, but I also think he would’ve made a delightful Gilligan. If the Harlem Globetrotters had crash-landed on the island, I would’ve bumped this review up by a full star.
Anyway, this disparate squad gets invited to an exclusive beach near the hotel. As they make their way to this gorgeous, secluded slice of heaven, none of these yuppie archetypes has a clue about the grave danger of this locale. Of course, the warning signs pop up immediately: The kids start growing by the minute; adults rapidly develop crow’s feet and liver spots. As some of the older guests die, it soon becomes clear that this beach has some supernatural properties that cause inhabitants to age one year for every thirty minutes. Thus begins a race to escape the shoreline before everyone turns to dust.
Okay–I’m gonna need someone to walk me through this gobbledegook. The people trapped on this beach had to squeeze through an opening between a steep rock face to get there. When someone tries to escape, they black out and have to be pulled back to the sand. Jarin deduces that when they walk toward a point where their cells age normally, their bodies can’t acclimate to the change. But…wouldn’t that same sudden shift have hit them on their way into the beach? Wouldn’t they have blacked out then, too?
Make no mistake: I can handle a plot hole the size of a tractor tire, but the movie around it had better be enchanted titty sprinkles. That is most definitely not the case here. Shyamalan has built a reputation for awkward, flowery dialogue, but he outdoes himself here. The kids, in particular, speak in an unnaturally precocious way. Meanwhile, their parents spend the first act in expositional purgatory, shouting their life stories at each other for the sole benefit of the audience. It’s confounding, because Shyamalan can infuse his movies with warmth and humanity, especially with early works such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. So many of the exchanges in this film feel overly written and false.
Despite these flaws, Old does manage to pick up a little steam as it goes along. The premise of sudden frailty and death is overloaded with philosophical potential, and not even Shyamalan’s showboating can completely kill it. The film’s midsection, which feels like a blend of Lost and The Twilight Zone, actually does a decent job of maintaining interest. For a time, my hopes grew that Old might get itself back on the tracks.
Alas, nope. As he is wont to do, Shyamalan presents an ending that sends the movie clattering off the rails and into the canyon below. No filmmaker in history has such an erratic résumé when it comes to wrapping up his storylines. The Sixth Sense broke the box office on the strength of its final twist, wherein Shyamalan pulled off a magic trick that both shocked audiences and satisfied the film’s need for an emotional payoff. He’s never caught that white whale again, but it sure as hell hasn’t been from a lack of trying. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that Shyamalan concludes his ambitious, supernatural story in a way that’s literal, drab, and thoroughly underwhelming.
Old is one of the most frustrating films I’ve seen in a good long while. So much talent and story potential get squandered. A good–possibly even great–movie lurks within the shadows of this finished product. There are moments when you can almost see it. Unfortunately, I can only judge Old for what it is, and that’s a colossal disappointment.
108 min. PG-13. VoD.