I really don’t understand the hate surrounding the latest cycle of M. Night Shyamalan’s career. After his sophomore effort made him a household name, it also set expectations completely off the charts for the remainder of his career. Keep in mind The Sixth Sense was a genre film first and foremost, which bled into the mainstream with its sharp twist turning it into a pop-culture phenomenon. Also remember that films by the director that were originally thought to be misses like Unbreakable and The Village have since been properly re-assessed and given the praise they deserved. While for some reason, some feel compelled to draw comparisons to Spielberg, I personally feel like Shyamalan is more in time with a Rod Serling with his tales that often give us unexpected endings, while attempting to dig into the human condition.
Old, his latest, follows a nuclear family unit (father, mother, son, daughter) who are lured to a remote island resort that hosts a beach with some very strange properties. In a hilariously on the nose metaphor, when the family and a few others are told about a private beach getaway, they are dropped off by the director himself in his usual Hitchcockian cameo to trigger the plot into motion. The long and the short of it is this, people age much faster on the beach, and the resort knew this, even leaving enough food to keep the kid’s bodies nourished through their accelerated growth spurt. We also discover at least one member of each of the 3 groups on the beach have a terminal illness. This sci-fi scenario plays out as Shyamalan uses it to examine the impact of time and age on relationships.
Old is a very modest film with a very high concept idea. It works about 85% of the time and has the director visibly having a lot of fun with it. I was like 60% in until the film takes a really weird jump about halfway through, that had me all in for the remainder. It’s when it’s revealed that not only have the preteens aged up into adults, but now one of them is now pregnant, then forcing everyone to endure a bizarre super accelerated pregnancy. It’s this bit of morose ridiculousness that tonally shifts the film more into more of an elevated camp, rather than straight sci-fi. The acting here is also a mixed bag since some supporting cast are swapped out as they are aged out on the beach affecting performances. This made it difficult for me to really lock into or identify with any character because of the constant chaos on screen. But it had to have been an ambitious undertaking considering the way Shyamalan had to sell the illusion of aging up half the cast on a sub 20 million budget.
OId was very much M. Night channeling his inner Rod Serling, crafting a weird and wonderful tale of the unknown that feels plucked from that era of the late 50s TV fare. He should have shot it in black and white, that would be my only real complaint of the film. Old isn’t trying to be anything more than it is and I think part of the hate surrounding it is those unrealistic expectations that still haunt the director’s work. I mean you don’t go into a Blumhouse film expecting A24? I personally think the director got the hint after Avatar, and refocused on smaller more original and personal genre films in order to be able to continue making films. If you’re okay with meeting the film on its own terms, Old is a lot of fun and does exactly what its trying to do throwing in some great PG-13 jump scares while giving those who choose to look deeper something to chew on as well.