Old Review: A horrifying thriller that’s one of Shyamalan’s best
M. Night Shyamalan continues his visionary resurgence with his latest original thriller, Old, that delves into the horrors of aging and life suddenly creeping up on you.
It’s no secret that Shyamalan has fallen far from the grace he received from his early successes, mainly The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, by delivering an era of mediocre and just plain bad movies. However, recently, his efforts with The Visit, Split, and Apple TV+’s Servant have signaled a return to form and Old looked like it could further show Shyamalan getting back into his old ways. Although he’s created some real stinkers, including an Avatar: The Last Airbender adaptation no one will let him forget, Shyamalan’s always been able to craft incredibly intriguing premises for his original thrillers and Old is no exception.
Based on the Swiss graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, the film follows a group of vacationers as their trip to a secluded beach turns into a nightmare after they realize that they’re rapidly aging for an unknown reason and are unable to escape. When it comes to the storytelling in Old, it’s Shyamalan at his best. This premise immediately grabs your attention and continually keeps your heading spinning for answers. Questions like if there’s a greater shared purpose to the group being there and who is watching them atop the surrounding cliffs keep you wondering and on edge. The way he reveals character details fleshes out connections and creates this enticing mystery. Even better is that Shyamalan nails reveals as the rapid aging comes through in horrifying, sudden fashion.
With its younger characters, the passage of time is visually mind-melting as they go through decades of years of their lives in a matter of hours. Although their aging physically, their overall personalities and maturity don’t change much so as they instantly go through puberty and are forced to deal with these new feelings, leading to some shocking situations. The relationship between a teenage Trent (Alex Wolff) and Kara (Eliza Scanlen) is such a chaotic turn in the film that’s genuinely unnerving and Wolff does a great job showing the false sense of maturity and life that Trent has because he’s aged so rapidly. Although Trent is shown to be a little more mentality aware and thoughtful with how he talks to people and the secret message decoding he does with another boy at the hotel, he’s clearly out of his depth when he ages, and it creates a terrifying depiction of growing up too fast.
The situation is even more horrifying for the beachgoers that are already adults. The moments of sudden vision and hearing loss leave you shook, and Shyamalan does a great job creating realistic depictions of aging with Trent’s parents Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps). Prisca having to lean into to hear her children talk and Guy forgetting the things he wants to tell Prisca really tug at your heart with how real they feel and even the moments where older characters suddenly reminisce about their regrets and life choices feel fitting with how their life is flashing and fleeting so suddenly. These moments can carry a lot of emotional weight to them, but it’s definitely hard to feel that at times since parts of Shyamalan’s past direction unfortunately unearth themselves in Old.
Look, as much as Old really nails its premise, its delivery and execution can be a tad problematic with how reminiscent it is to Shyamalan’s worst – specifically The Happening. There are awkward line deliveries throughout and plenty of weird cuts to people saying the most random and strangest things. There’s a point where Charles (Rufus Sewell), a doctor, just starts spouting random thoughts with no sense of purpose and you’re left wondering what the hell is happening. Even Trent’s curiosity about the names and professions about everyone he meets reflects the weird ways that Shyamalan depicts kids in his movies. Old isn’t without Shyamalan’s strange direction and it’s even stranger how he hasn’t learned much from his past. Like Shyamalan, why do you do this? Why in the middle of a great career resurgence do you remind us of one of your worst films?
Shyamalan’s strange direction definitely creates a barrier in making Old‘s best thematic and character elements accessible. However, once you’re gelled into the experience, there’s something kind of brilliant about him evoking his past direction. The weird way conversation topics come up and the strange interactions that occur actually fit really well with the way these characters are forced to deal with their kids as well as themselves aging before they’re ready. They’re so out of sorts and genuinely afraid that they don’t know what to think and it really does feel like everyone’s mind is racing making them unable to think clearly. It’s strange, but Shyamalan’s “style” is really what makes Old’s execution of its themes and depictions of aging so effective and even the big twist that comes, as expected, is a small diversion from how the “Shyamalan twist” is usually delivered.
Yes, Old has a twist, maybe two, that comes in the finale, but they don’t feel like these overblown mindblowers. Rather, they actually work well in filling in the missing pieces of the story and answering long gestated questions about what we’ve been seeing. There’s an interesting answer to who has been watching the group that’s surprising and maybe could open up conversations about ethics in medicinal testing. Also, it’s just fun how Shyamalan injects himself into this moment. Not to mention, it delivers a satisfying ending that’s a little too drawn out but remains memorable and genuinely effective. With Old, Shyamalan doesn’t feel like he’s trying to recapture the magic of The Sixth Sense blowing people away and is much more focused on him telling a well-crafted, finely detailed story – which maybe shows signs that he’s matured as a filmmaker.
Old also showcases Shyamalan taking a darker turn in his craft as he creates some of the most memorable moments of horror of his career. The premise, itself, can be enough to leave you on edge, but Shyamalan brings some extra visuals and ideas that add to the concept of time rapidly moving forward. The idea of cuts instantly scabbing is one of my favorites because the visual of it is so fascinating and the way he also adds in some horrifying visuals of medical and mental issues quickly worsening is truly horrifying. Tumors growing to insane proportions and someone’s grip on reality deteriorating creates terrifying depictions that leave a mark on you.
The deaths in Old especially stand out with how they gut you with their visuals. There’s this kill that involves bones breaking and healing in this environment that I can’t stop thinking about because it’s so creative and catches you completely off guard. Shyamalan even does something that’s totally unthinkable in this that proves Old to be his darkest outing yet. It’s not something that hits you immediately but becomes more disturbing the more you think about it. The genuine horror that Shyamalan evokes with Old honestly make it worth a watch alone.
There were times in Shyamalan’s career when it seemed like he would never be able to return to the early heights of his career. However, Old shows that those days are long behind him as he delivers one of his best films to date. Shyamalan excellently utilizes Old’s amazing premise to deliver a strangely enticing mystery that shows a strong maturity in his filmmaking that comes together to create a genuinely horrifying thriller.