Old represents a case of one step forward and two steps back for M. Night Shyamalan, now firmly established as one of Hollywood’s most frustratingly inconsistent directors. Split and Glass went some way to successfully rehabilitating his fragile reputation after a handful of howlers – Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender, in particular – but Old wastes an intriguing concept thanks to Shyamalan’s haphazard grasp of character development and motivation and a preponderance of clunky, ham-fisted dialogue allied with some frankly bizarre visuals more likely to elicit sniggers of derision from the audience rather than gasps of horror and revulsion.
Old is based on the acclaimed Swiss graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters and we can only assume that the damage was done by Shyamalan in its transition to the big screen. It’s an eerie and pleasingly solid idea. A group of tourists staying at a too-good-to-be-true tropical resort visit a beautiful, secluded beach recommended by the resort’s oleaginous manager. One member of each group, intriguingly, is suffering from a troublesome medical condition. Already on the beach is a famous rapper known as Mid-Size Sedan (I beg your pardon??), whose female partner’s body suddenly washes up on the beach. The thrown-together group become understandably distressed but they find that they can’t leave the beach, surrounded as it is by mountains and accessible only by a path in the cliff. Anyone attempting to cross through the path blacks out and finds themself back on the beach, a fate that also befalls one unfortunate who decides to climb up the cliff. Their situation quickly deteriorates when three of the children suddenly start to age and it appears that some strange and unnatural force is accelerating the effects of the passage of time. Can the group find a way off the beach or will they succumb to their own weaknesses and paranoia – and why are they being quietly observed from the top of the cliff by the resort employee who drove them by coach to the beach in the first place (played by Shyamalan himself)?
Old probably has some cogent points to make about the nature of life and how it can seem to pass by in the blink of an eye and how, at heart, we are all afraid of the ageing process and its inevitable consequences but Shyamalan fudges it all by lumbering his game cast – Rufus Sewell, Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Ken Leung, and Nikki Amuka-Bird amongst them – with graceless dialogue that tumbles like timber from their lips and plot inconsistencies that will leave you scratching your head until it bleeds. No one here really talks or behaves like real, believable, or relatable people so there’s an immediate distance between them and any sympathy we might struggle to engender for their admittedly troublesome and unnerving plight. These are people being made to engage in awkward, rambling conversations by a writer who feels the need to keep has cast talking. An attempt to depict Rufus Sewell’s Charles’ schizophrenia by making him obsess over a half-remembered film starring Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando is too obscure to properly land and the response by Prisca (Kriepps) on discovering that her six-year-old kids have suddenly become teenagers – “it must be some sort of virus” – is so ludicrous that it’s laughable. For a film centred on the ageing of the human body, Old is curiously coy in the body horror department until it decides it’s time to takes the gloves off, and one scene in particular with a character ageing to death and suffering a lifetime of broken limbs in the space of a few minutes just ends up looking comical. Then there are a handful of moments that are either extraordinarily stupid or horribly misjudged; one ad hoc medical procedure carried out on the beach is screamingly implausible and the union between two six-year-olds who are suddenly teenagers (but still mentally six-year-olds, remember) that results in an unnaturally-rapid pregnancy can’t help but feel slightly ill-advised.
Old isn’t a tragically bad Shyamalan film but it sails worryingly close to the likes of The Happening in terms of its eyebrow-raisingly idiotic dialogue and plot progression, delivering a resolution (not exactly the anticipated ’twist’ ending) that raises more questions than it offers answers. Life really is too short for films as clumsy and hokey as Old.
Old is in cinemas now.