Let’s start by mentioning that there’s a character in this movie named “Mid-Sized Sedan.” He’s a rapper with dreamy eyes whose most frequent line is: “Damn.” Note, he doesn’t even say it with an exclamation mark. I laughed out loud more than once at his delivery. He doesn’t get upset, even when his naked girlfriend goes for a swim, washes up dead and then decomposes to dust and bones in a few hours.
Most of what you need to know about this movie is presented in the trailer. To reveal more would spoil the actually clever ideas and the patented surprise ending. There’s nothing like knowing there’s going to be a major plot twist at the end of two hours to ruin the hundred minutes leading up to that point.
Maybe the problem with M. Night Shyamalan’s films, ever since his very successful The Sixth Sense, is that he tackles writer, director and producer roles simultaneously, in this case a screenplay based on a graphic novel called Sandcastle. Perhaps the jump from graphic novel to horror film was too large. The dialogue in this film is atrocious. The characters are ridiculous, perhaps intentionally. They all suffer from secret disorders, either medical or psychological. But they’ve all been enticed to visit an exclusive tropical vacation destination that has a “secret” beach at the end of a one-way bus ride. Oh, look, the driver is M. Night Shyamalan! Appearing in your own movie is just grotesque, unless done subtly, a la Alfred Hitchcock, or if you’re Clint Eastwood. More on that later.
Signs, Unbreakable, Split, and The Sixth Sense are M. Night’s best efforts. Of those, only Split broke out of the 1999-2000 stride that he hit with his suspenseful, signature twisted ending formula, and that was largely due to the acting by James McAvoy. Every other film can be considered just another attempt to recreate the success of the first.
There were numerous tight shots in Old, so much so that characters fell out of frame. Deliberate? Unknown, but another overused technique was the over-the-shoulder shot from behind an aging character in order to surprise us with a radical change in appearance. That’s just clumsy. Walk out from behind a rock, pop up from a crashing wave, don’t just stand facing away from the camera.
From the trailer you’re already aware that the cast of characters on a beautiful, magical beach is aging at a rapid rate. As a result, any cut or scrape heals almost instantly. Why then is Mid-Size Sedan getting nose bleeds that won’t stop? This is explained but adds little to the story. And have you noticed that the Hollywood nose bleed has become the hallmark of something far more serious going wrong, as if your nose is the barometer of unseen maladies?
I’ll chalk this disaster up to the negative effects of a one-year pandemic lockdown for M. Night. But I think he’s suffering from something far worse – his own notion that he’s amazing. Don’t box office receipts eventually take care of that? Maybe one decent film every four attempts can keep you bankrolled in Hollywood, especially if it’s your money and you’re the Producer.
One casting note: most stars are relatively unknown, but if you’re a fan of Clint Eastwood’s daughter Francesca, she has a small role. Her roles will likely remain small.
We are eventually left with two aged survivors, one a six-year-old who looks fifty, talking about how surprised his Aunt will be when she sees him. Even more surprising is that his intellect and education level aged with him without benefit of schooling. Perhaps a magic beach can solve the mounting college debt problem. But start this movie with an awkward conversation between aged child and Aunt, then flash back. If M. Night put the plot twist at the beginning of his film it might be a welcome change. Welcome to Fantasy Island!
Old (2021) runs 1 hour, 48 minutes and is rated PG-13.