CLEVELAND, Ohio – I’m old enough to remember when M. Night Shyamalan was hailed as the next Alfred Hitchcock. Of course, it didn’t work that way. Critical and box office hits like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs were followed by a series of spectacular hiccups. (Lady in the Water, anyone?) The release of Split in 2016 changed the narrative, albeit briefly.
The writers-directors’ latest thriller Old, which is now playing in theaters, is another reminder of its unrealized potential and a return to its worst impulses. Want to feel old? How about The Sixth Sense came out in 1999.
Old is a lot like that office meeting that could have been an email in that you realize early on that the movie could easily have been a Fantasy Island episode. The only thing missing from the facility is Mr. Rourke. Guy (Gael Garca Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) arrive at a chic resort on a tropical island with their children, Maddox (Alex Swinton), 11, and Trent (Nolan River), 6, for one last vacation in family before having to tell the children that she has a tumor and that their marriage is over.
First element of their itinerary: a trip organized by the director of the complex to an ultra-secret beach. They are joined by Charles (Rufus Sewell), a doctor with early signs of dementia, his Instagram wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their daughter and mother; Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), epileptic therapist, and her husband Jarin (Ken Leung); and Mid-size Sedan (Aaron Pierre), a rapper with blood clot disease. Each group includes at least one sick person.
It’s not long before weird things start to happen and they realize there’s a good reason the beach isn’t in Fodors. A corpse washed up on the shore and decomposed in a few minutes. Priscas’ tiny tumor grew to the size of a melon. Most shocking: the three children are now five years older.
Something happens over time on this beach, Jarin said around 45 minutes.
It turns out that everyone on the beach ages about two years every hour, although the rate seems to vary from person to person. Some adults start to have wrinkles, others don’t.
It’s the first time they’ve wished to be black, joking the midsize sedan in a really newsworthy moment.
The movie asks, What would you do if you were stranded on a cursed beach that makes you age quickly? You would panic a bit at first and then try to escape. If you are a child who suddenly turns into a teenager, you are also having sex. If you are an adult you are trying to avoid death. Rinse and repeat.
Indeed, Old ages very quickly.
Still, the mystery behind what is causing them to age at an accelerated rate and why the station sent them there is at least interesting. If Shyamalan is the master of anything, this is the end of the twist. Unfortunately, whatever currency the director has invested in this mystery, it is wasted. The film is light on detail, heavy with one-dimensional characters and the director’s signature wacky dialogue.
My thoughts are more colorful now, says Maddox (Thomasin McKenzie), 16, explaining what it feels like to age five years in a day after setting foot on the island. Yesterday I had a few colors and they were really strong. Now I have more and they are quieter.
Say what now?
Character development and lively dialogue aren’t necessarily hallmarks of a good horror movie. But any hopes you’d be afraid of your seat are dashed the moment you realize the killer here isn’t a chainsaw-wielding psychopath or alien invasion, but old age. Death from calcium deficiency is about as exciting as it sounds. This is also the time when I started wishing I had two more hours and already know the end.
So, how old is it? If it’s a supernatural horror thriller, it fails on all three points. If this is an uplifting tale about not wasting time and living life to the fullest, I missed it. If this is a metaphor for failures in the healthcare industry, I missed it too. Instead, Old looks a lot like Shyamalan’s previous work: A Half-Baked Mystery Seeking Movie.
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