Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writers: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie
Cinematographer: Mike Gioulakis
Editor: Brett M. Reed
Streaming on: BookMyShow Stream
Most of M Night Shyamalan’s films anchor their horrors in a fraught parent-child relationship. Think of The Visit (2015), in which a woman’s yearning to reconcile with her parents is shattered by the revelation that they’re long gone. Or The Village (2004), in which the parental desire to protect assumes monstrous proportions. Old taps into a visceral fear parents have — of watching their children grow up too fast, suffer and die before their eyes. This time, however, the filmmaker foregrounds familial bonds instead of letting them organically unfold as one strand of the narrative, resulting in a movie in which the weepy emotions are designed to suffocate any ounce of horror from the premise.
Old is packed with clumsy foreshadowing right from the opening scenes in which Prisca (Vicky Krieps), travelling to a tropical resort with a family, tells her daughter she can’t wait to hear how her singing voice develops as she gets older. Her husband, Guy (Gael García Bernal), meanwhile tells their son he’s too young to go scuba-diving. As if this wasn’t already our cue to consider how the swift passage of time might come back to haunt the family, Prisca underlines the point by admonishing the kids, telling them to “stop wishing away this moment” when they express impatience during the journey. Even the parents’ professions are designed to highlight the confluence of the past and the future. While Prisca is a museum curator, Guy is an actuary, always calculating future risks. “You’re always thinking about the past. You work in a goddamn museum,” Guy even yells at his wife at one point, in case audiences hadn’t arrived at that observation on their own. So far, so unsubtle.
When the family arrives at the resort, they’re offered the chance to visit an exclusive beach along with some of the other guests. The driver ferrying them to this location is Shyamalan himself in a nice meta touch, reflective of the way the director ushers his characters to the brink of horror. But that’s where the fun ends. Time is accelerated at the beach, which causes the group to age rapidly, and while the camera captures their rising panic, it doesn’t seem all that interested in the inherent body horror of the situation, repeatedly cutting away when Guy must surgically remove a tumour that has swiftly ballooned inside Prisca during this compressed timeframe. While the characters age physically, they remain at the same age mentally, but the film doesn’t linger long enough to let the horrifying implications sink in, particularly during a sequence in which the couple’s young daughter is impregnated, swells and gives birth all in the span of a single afternoon. The only character that really encompasses the body horror aspect of this scenario is fellow group member Chrystal (Abbey Lee), a vain woman who must now contend with the physical degradation that accompanies aging.
There are moments when Old, based on 2010 graphic novel Sandcastle, really leans into the fun of its premise — teasing audiences with glimpses of the back of the actors’ heads, then swivelling the camera to reveal just how much they’ve aged in a short span, or throwing in a cheeky joke about how Black people age better. And the film is quite scary in parts, though it’s far more concerned with being a moving meditation on family, and how the major spats we have today become minor quibbles in the larger scheme of things. Its insistence on deploying these ideas with a heavy hand and couching them in grating platitudes, however, make the film far from Shyamalan’s best.