Old is a fitting title for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film because it describes what his shtick has become. Yes, it’s a goofy shtick at this point, and it ceased to be gripping a few movies ago. This new Twilight Zone-style “thriller” of a movie plays out like a parody of his past work, bombarding viewers with one outrageous twist after another but never bothering to ground any of them in good writing, interesting characters or even the usual storytelling gambit of paying anything off at the end of its 108-minute runtime.
Since his blockbuster breakthrough film, 1999’s The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has delivered movies with concepts that could be summed up in an elevator pitch. Old revolves around a group of vacationers as they each age rapidly during a day trip on a secluded island. They estimate that each member of the group will grow roughly two years older every hour. It’s an intriguing and serendipitously timely concept in the wake of COVID, as we emerge from the stressful period of quarantine and social distancing with a few more white hairs, feeling like eons have passed.
Some of the early scenes on the island are genuinely chilling. During one dialogue exchange, Shyamalan effectively keeps the kids offscreen, making the reveal of their aged appearance all the more frightening. But then, hilariously late in the film, one character informs everyone “There’s something going on with time on this beach,” and it’s a shitshow from there.
During this race against time, cuts instantly scar over, a woman’s tumor swells to the size of a softball, children transform into horny teenagers and one of them gets pregnant. (Calm down. The trailer shows as much. Plus, this movie’s stupid.) Oh, wild teens. They can’t keep it in their pants even in the middle of a life-threatening situation! Seriously, though, if they still have the minds of children, why would they have sex in this nightmare? And why would they bone in broad daylight under a fucking blanket just a few feet away from everyone? “What you did is how babies are made!” the boy’s father reminds him. Hysterical. Don’t think too hard about the implications.
The actors in the ensemble do their best to ground this Looney Tune in emotional reality. Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps bring a memorable sense of melancholy as a fractured couple struggling to hide their fear in front of their kids. Rufus Sewell gives an engaging, empathetic performance as a doctor also trying to put on a brave face, pressured to be the hero of the group.
Unfortunately, this mess spins so wildly out of control that the performances can’t keep it from going off the rails. It’s never boring, I’ll give it that. And Old almost enters so-bad-it’s-good territory. But like most of Shyamalan’s movies, this one takes itself too seriously. He aims for a tragic tone when a campy one seems more fitting. He tries — and fails miserably — with a “Black don’t crack” joke early in the film.
There are some good ideas beneath the surreal sands of Old. One character’s comment about how we still feel like scared kids as we age hits hard. If only the film lingered longer on relatable ideas like that instead of rushing toward the next twist. After all, it’s the intimate, confessional, human moments of Shyamalan’s films that are most effective. The Sixth Sense wasn’t nominated for Oscars because of its “gotcha ending.” Toni Collette earned the Best Supporting Actress nomination for the beautifully written and acted scene in which she asks her ghost-seeing son (Haley Joel Osment, nominated for Best Supporting Actor) if he knows whether she made her late mother proud. Therein lies the real magic of that movie.
I’ve been rooting for Shyamalan since The Sixth Sense, hoping he’ll find new things up his sleeve. This film shows that an old dog can’t learn new tricks.