In Old, the director faces the daily and existential terror of a life that passes too quickly.
M. Night Shyamalan has been directing Hollywood thrillers for over 20 years, and despite the ups and downs of his career, he has never lost the power to draw tension from the simplest of situations: someone opens a door, a shape walking across a television screen, a grimace turning into a smile. In the beginning Old, his latest gruesome roller coaster ride, a trio of kids play freeze tag on a beach, diving, weaving and laughing as one stands still, waiting to come to life. It’s a conscious clue of the terror that is about to unfold, the feeling that time is about to slip.
The beautiful secluded beach where Old unfolds is fueled by a horrible logic: if you stick to it, you get old fast. Guy (Gael Garca Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps), on a lavish vacation with their two pre-teens, arrive one morning and drop off their towels; within hours, their children have reached puberty and their own faces are marked with wrinkles. Shyamalan has made films featuring ghosts, alien invaders, spooky trees, and comic book villains, but with Old hes hit on a premise that is devastating in its simplicity. Everyone is afraid of getting old, right?
The film, based on the graphic novel Sand castle, by Pierre Oscar Lvy and Frederik Peeters, is perhaps the best Shyamalan since his (extremely underrated) 2004 hit, The village. In OldGuy and Prisca, along with the other bathers, must find a way out before their age kills them. But they are also tormented by the existential reality that their partnership and the many development milestones of their children pass.
What parent has not experienced this feeling of dread? Old is a perfect, straightforward title, but this movie might as well be called They grow up so fast, given the melancholy nuances of its often macabre plot. Shyamalan puzzles his characters with insecurities and doubts about their place in the world, then presses their life’s fast-forward button, giving them minutes to realize great emotional truths. You can almost hear him chuckle in the background (and, as usual, he throws himself into a small role) as he continually asks the audience this question: What would you do if you only had one day to live the rest of your life?
The beach (the movie was shot in the Dominican Republic) is a perfect metaphorical landscape for that matter. It is a peaceful and alluring, yet callous place, a beautiful place to spend your time before being washed away by the waves and forgotten. Shyamalan and her cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis, take full advantage of the negative space that this large open canvas offers, the camera weaving between the figures, swaying and swaying, making time appear to be rapidly turning out. range. Rather than engulfing his characters in very wide shots to emphasize their insignificance, Shyamalan has them dominate the frame, standing so high that the screen cuts off their heads and feet, as if they are growing so quickly that they literally could not be contained.
It’s the kind of visual acuity that has always made Shyamalan a much better filmmaker than his reputation suggests. The first twist-centric horror series that made its nameThe sixth sense, Unbreakable, Panels, The villageled many to think of him as a one-trick pony, and the big budget flops that followed, such as The last air Master and After Earth, saw him fall back on smaller genre works. But it resulted in some of the most successful materials of his career: thrillers such as Visit and To divide, which exceeded the weight of their stupid plot due to Shyamalan’s skill with the setting and the atmosphere.
Yes, Old has a lot of awkward dialogue that defines Shyamalan’s work. His characters often can’t help but over-explain what is going on around them. It’s probably 10 minutes too long, with an ending that works too hard to expose the silly reasoning behind beaches’ supernatural properties. None of this matters. The central idea of Old has so much juice, and Shyamalan can explore so many funny sadistic avenues over a very long day. It is his most ambitious work in years, wrapped in the delicious and vulgar packaging of a pulpy thriller.
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