If nothing else, M Night Shyamalan has been a consistently interesting writer director since 1999’s The Sixth Sense, even if he hasn’t made a fully satisfying movie since, erm, 1999’s The Sixth Sense. What he has done is to create a brand around his name; high-end, high gloss Hollywood horror building to a third-act pulling away of the rug that audiences anticipate from the first minute of the teaser trailer. Old is based on a French comic book called Sandcastles, and is about a group of rapidly aging people washed up on a beach, complete with an original third act engineered by the writer/director that almost explains everything you’ve just seen but not in a way that pleases anyone.
Parents (Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps) arrive at a luxury hotel with their two kids, and are invited to spend the day at a spooky mysterious private beach, where strange things start to occur. Firstly they’re surrounded by clichéd characters, from a potentially homicidal rapper (Aaron Pierre) to a potentially homicidal surgeon (Rufus Sewell, of course) plus trophy partner, and some kind of intrigue is bubbling. But internal tensions become overt as the kids start to age rapidly (a year every 30 mins) and any underlying heath conditions, physical or mental, start to act up.
Spoiler alert; a big part of the attraction of any Shyamalan film is guessing the twist, but not for the first time, the twist is barely worth the effort. Ready for the punchline? The beach is a magic place where time and the aging process run faster than normal, and the characters are guinea-pigs invited by a nefarious corporation so they can fast their own innovative track medical techniques by experimenting on them. Cool, huh? Bet you didn’t see that coming? What’s that, you think the explanation is rubbish? Well, it doesn’t make much sense but it’s also an pretext for a fairly grim narrative of watching characters rapidly get sick, grow old and die, hardly something to turn out for.
As with Split, Shyamalan again engages with a reprehensible Hollywood cliché, than any kind of mental illness is an automatic red flag that violence is coming, but the writer/director is also willing to throw in dementia, tumours and general body-shape vanity into the mix is the race to offend. While super-slick, and certainly good to look at, Old is a remorselessly sick and disturbing film, but not for the reasons the director might offer. By offering up physical and mental illness as entertainment, Shyamalan might add an uncomfortable edge to his work, but as with Split, he’s pandering to a bloodthirsty mob in a thoughtless and irresponsible way.