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Old

***
2012

‘…while super-slick, and certainly good to look at, Old is a remorselessly sick and disturbing film…’

OLD, from left: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alex Wolff, 2021. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

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.

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    • Best avoided! It’s kind of nasty to present accelerated versions of real life conditions for our edification.

  1. Since seeing this film, I have wondered how I would view it had it been made by a no-name director, and not by Shyamalan. In the context of Shyamalan’s filmography, it’s by no means his worst entry — I’d say it’s among some of his better films, but that’s only because some of his films have set the bar so low. In a lot of ways, I see Shyamalan films in the same way I see DC Extended Universe films — if it’s not terrible, it’s already gained a small victory.

    • ‘Top notch’ was how Peter Bradshaw described this in the Guardian. I’d love to see him explain his thinking to an audience. The bar is set so low now, and yet it’s not the hokey twist as the convoluted working and the Victorian attitude to mental health issues that ruined Split and Glass. They can keep hyping his movies, but I’d say DC were doing a better job right now than this director.

  2. Succinctly appraised…bravo! It’s another spin on Dorian Grey, but as a water color, without portrait people debauchery, but with huge mural canvas of corporation corruption and depravity of the worst sorts…

    • That’s a better angle than I had; not sure all the corporate corruption is on message with the ‘science will keep you safe’ messaging in a pandemic, but as often seems to be the case with this director, the whole caboodle seems to be to justify an elaborately complicated twist….

  3. Isn’t this the same as The Village? In a way? When the shot pulled back and we see the wall and the modern car. Corporation owned, Amish, uh, err . . . DOH! That’s your “twist”? Can I get a refund? Nope, you already hate most of the steak, sucker, at the Bistro Shally.

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