M. Night Shyamalan is back with another tale in a career that peaked early and then slowly decayed over time and, appropriately enough, that’s the theme of Old, the story of a family that find themselves trapped on a beach that rapidly ages them. Children become adults, adults become geezers, and all of the characters discover through self reflection what is most important in life.
If that is all there had been to it, Old would have been a quiet classic, but M. Night’s hands have not proven to be the most capable or competent over the years and, unfortunately, Old suffers from a twist ending that robs the story of its poignancy, awkward pacing, and a movie that doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with its own ideas.
For example (and spoilers incoming), the thing that keeps our characters from leaving the beach is a wave of pressure on their heads that causes them to pass out and stumble back to the beach. They liken it to diving in deep water and theorize that, if you give yourself time to adjust on the walk back — stopping every few steps and extending a ten minute walk to eight hours, they might be able to escape. It’s a sound plan, well thought out, and logical.
Of course, they instantly forget about it and decide to take other avenues that are literally the worst in a situation in which you could pass out at any moment. They don’t even try it because “it might take too long,” but have no trouble climbing a rock wall or swimming miles out into the water where passing out is a death sentence. This isn’t a logistical failing, this is stupidity.
There is also a skeezy pregnancy and birth scene that I could have very well done without that the movie shrugs and presents like it’s normal. Personally, I found the entire scene and its ramifications rather horrifying and not for the reason the movie intended.
Of course, when the movie isn’t busy being stupid or sabotaging its themes, it’s fairly good. I was happy to see Gael García Bernal in a major movie again, I’ve always liked Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung is a tragically underrated actor, and I’m a big fan of Alex Wolff, especially after Heredity. The cast is strong, the themes are fascinating, and the setting is both eerie and beautiful, but the movie defeats itself more than it champions its own message.
I also have to say that I did not like the children. I know that sounds weird, but the children didn’t act like children even when they were children — they just acted like quirky, intelligent adults which, I suppose, made it easier to portray them as adults later on. This is disappointing as all of the actors (and there are quite a few) who played the children through various stages of their life certainly had the talent to play children in adult bodies, but the script did not trust them to do so.
Come on, Big was 30 years ago. If Tom Hanks could convincingly play an adult child, these actors could have as well.
Old is a frustrating experience. Greatness remains slightly out of arm’s reach for it… the movie’s fingers can touch it briefly, but can never quite grasp it. The result is a wildly uneven film that battles and destroys itself so many times that it’s tragic.