Ah, M. Night Shyamalan. There is oh, so much to say about M. Night Shyamalan. The guy, as a filmmaker, is a mixed bag. He has made some awful, awful movies, such as After Earth and The Last Airbender. Yet the movies of his that I do enjoy, I enjoy quite a bit, to the point where I usually root for him to succeed. There is even some merit in his mediocrities, such as The Village and Glass– the ideas were in place and might have been strong, but somewhere along the way, Night fell.
This, I imagine, will be the general consensus of M. Night’s latest, Old.
Despite the level of disastrous that his films can reach, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by its premise and trailer- I was super intrigued, just from the Super Bowl TV spot. Yet this is an M. Night movie so it’s always best to proceed with caution. Thus, if you’re interested in seeing Old, again, proceed with caution. Old is a film that can’t be fully recommended, simply because it doesn’t fully work. Yet… hmm… I kinda, sorta… liked it. The film suffers from perhaps an overload of ideas, and a screenplay that is not just awkward, but kind of terrible and clunky, at times sinking the performances with it. But… the ideas here are so interesting that even when the film wasn’t quite working, it still pretty much had me under its spell. It really is an interesting film, albeit a flawed one, but it is also interesting as a conversation starter; the kind of movie where you’ll talk about it the entire ride home, whether it be in a positive way, or not.
Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps play Guy and Prisca, who take their children Maddox (probably age 11) and Trent (age 6) on a tropical vacation. This place is a stunner, even though when they’re greeted by this red-headed Swedish fella, the audience knows something is afoot. Guy and Prisca are unhappily married, but they’re putting on a good face for the sake of their children (despite, well, the fact that they shout all of this with the kids in the next room, but I digress).
Said sus Swede tells the family about this private beach close to their resort, and allows them the chance to spend the day there. Turns out it wasn’t much of a secret though, as a few other couples and their children are on the island too. So, before diving into more details of the plot, let’s just talk about these characters. The characters are of course a placeholder to set the plot in motion- M. Night is clearly more interested in the ideas than the people in the middle of these ideas. Yet pretty early on (and this is evident in some of his other work as well) it’s plain to see that the man doesn’t have a good ear for dialogue. Take the very introduction of these characters. One fellow guest, Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) suffers from a seizure (we haven’t been introduced to this woman yet), and her boyfriend Jarin (Ken Leung) exclaims, “She has epileptic seizures! I’m Jarin, I’m a pediatrician!” Well, maybe the pediatrician part is wrong, but still, he’s not the only one who introduces themselves this way in this film, and, well, not only does it feel awkward, but… nobody talks like that. At times, they sound like they came from the same bizarre universe as the characters in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, except in this case it’s unintentional.
Anyways, they’re all on the island, and soon a dead body bumps into Trent while he’s in the water. A suspicious rapper named (wait for it) Mid-Sized Sedan appears to be the culprit. Then, an older woman begins feeling ill, and as if the timing of this wasn’t strange enough, the unthinkable happens: Maddox and Trent grow up. Something on the island is causing the guests to age at a rapid rate, and to make matters worse, not only have they been stranded on the island, but it also appears as if there is no leaving the island (whenever any of them try to go back to the start, they black out and end up back where they ended up).
The more I typed out the synopsis, the more the rules of Old seemed to sort of fall apart. Yet it still didn’t really bother me because, again, the ideas here are not only really fascinating, but they’re utterly f**king nuts. This is supposedly based on some comic strip, but it honestly seems very much up M. Night’s alley, and it’s probably his most creative movie in years. You gotta hand it to the guy, he doesn’t usually make sequels or anything, so he typically just aims for these high concept thrillers.
Yet… hmm. Back to that pesky dialogue, there are many moments in Old where the people on the island are trying to make sense of what is happening to them, and mind you, we’re pretty much as in the dark as they are… yet they spout out these lines of complete exposition that seem to sort of come from nowhere, besides M. Night’s brain. In a movie as nutty as this, it’s kind of understandable for characters to talk this way, simply by means of filling us in. Though it would’ve been better if M. Night had found a way to have these characters come across these realizations, rather than just share them with each other and us. The stuff that they say just sort of comes from out of nowhere, but again, he probably just wants to keep the plot moving.
I was always afraid of the film losing steam, and honestly, it does remain consistently engaging. M. Night does seem to hold up his end of the bargain (bizarre, rough dialogue and all) by keeping the flow of ideas coming. There is a deeper meaning at play in Old, despite the nuttiness and at times pure creepiness, that is kind of effective. It could have been more effective if M. Night had taken a minute to let the film breathe, but that probably would’ve meant that these people would have more to talk about, and lord, give me strength.
The performances, from Bernal and Krieps aren’t bad, but they don’t get out of this unscathed because of the dialogue (Leung is honestly the worst). Rufus Sewell might be the best, as a doctor who starts showing signs of dementia. Yet the most interesting performances here come from Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff as the older versions of Maddox and Trent. Their dialogue comes across as awkward too, but in this case it works out in their favor: they’re playing children, in the bodies of teenagers. What M. Night does with these two is my favorite aspect of the movie, not just because it’s the most fascinating, but because it’s the most creative.
The film builds to a finale that seemed as if it were going to make or break it. Truth be told, it does sort of wrap a bow on the whole thing, and not really a disappointing one, a la The Village. It’s nothing too shocking, but it’s okay mostly because M. Night delivers the surprises throughout the rest of the film. So really, when the whole thing is done, people will either go for Old, due to the fascination of its premise, or they’ll deem it another M. Night Sham. As I see it, it falls in the middle. It’s a film that is effective to a degree (give or take a sequence or two that is totally bonkers), but it is easy to sense a better film in here; one that could’ve been better had M. Night just collaborated with someone else to give the script the polish it oh-so needs. Kind of like it or kind of loathe it though, M. Night has indeed made a movie that is pretty etched in my mind, for better or worse.