Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Gael GarcíaBernal, Vicky Krieps, Rugus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie and Abbey Lee
A couple of years ago Midsommar was given a lot of praise for being a horror film set mostly during the day. Because of the bright lighting in most scenes, Midsommar subverted the expectations that scary things only happen at night or in the dark. It made the fear more tangible and real. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film Old does the same thing, and to greater effect, with most of the film taking place on a bright beach. It also takes it one step further, because the root cause of the horror in Old is time and aging, and that happens everywhere. Aging and dying are universal fears that are constantly referenced in horror stories throughout history. In Old Shyamalan takes that fear and gives it a physical form in the idyllic beach that the characters are stuck on.
Something on the beach is making anyone who visits age quicker, and the film is about a group trying to escape from this. The whole ensemble is made up of interesting characters with great dynamics between them at play. If this wasn’t a horror, but a drama set on an island resort, there would still be a captivating story, and that’s how you know you’re in for a good ride from the beginning. There’s a doctor, Charlie played by Rufus Sewell (Dark City, Judy) whose ego takes control, telling nurse Jarin, played by Ken Leung (Rush Hour, Lost) what to do when looking after his epileptic wife. A couple, played by Gael García Bernal (Bad Education, Coco) and Vicky Krieps (Hanna, Two Lives), who are deciding on whether they should get a divorce. It’s a set up for an interesting drama and then it’s thrown onto the beach that ages them unnaturally fast and horror ensues. There are moments that are tense and scary only because the characters are so well written.
As fully realised as the characters are, there is still some awkward and clunky dialogue, especially from the children. This is a trend in most Shyamalan films, his dialogue is very stylised and not always natural. Thankfully the performances of the entire cast bring this to life with believability and conviction. The shining star is Rufus Sewell as Charlie, the egomaniac schizophrenic doctor. His mood swings and outbursts are sudden, shocking, and effective. The rest of the cast are also great with the script they are working with, but Sewell is beyond the most interesting and unhinged of the lot.
Charlie’s outbursts and aging aren’t the only source of horror to be found in Old. There’s one moment in the cave, towards the end, that is hauntingly chilling and terrifying. The body contorting scene is the scariest moment of the film and one of the many moments of true madness presented. This film is off the rails with memorable moments. The cave scene, a surgery sped up by the aging process, an entire pregnancy. It’s all here, one moment after another that keeps the pace moving at a quick pace and never letting the film feel slow.
Sadly, this isn’t carried on to the end. The pace doesn’t slow down, and the ending feels rushed. When the big reveal happens, it makes sense and is coherent enough, but you’ll leave the film wishing there was more time with the outcome, explaining more and delivering a better pay-off for the 2 hours you’ve invested in. Another ten or so minutes would have really driven this film home. It’s a real small problem, and the film makes complete sense as it is, it just would be nice for the ending not to feel rushed.
One of the best things about Old is the cinematography by Mike Gioulakis. He captures the beach and holiday atmosphere perfectly. There are also some good uses of blurry vision and deliberate framing to keep the suspense, especially in the early scenes where it’s not clear what is happening. The beach and holiday resort itself look gorgeous and if it wasn’t for the outcome, this would be a dream vacation.
Shyamalan is dealing with some interesting themes with Old. We all know that one day we will die, but for the characters on that beach, they have to deal with that day being today. It begs the question, if today was your last day on Earth, what would you do? With some many open-ended things in life, such as strained relationships and worries of work, what does it all matter? Everything and nothing.
Old is a great horror/mystery film. It dances with the ideas of mortality and time in an interesting and thoughtful way. This is one of Shyamalan’s best films and if the ending was given some more room to breathe then it would be his best. Oh, and so you don’t spend half the film trying to figure it out, the film with Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson is The Missouri Breaks.