Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are on vacation with their two children Trent and Maddox at a secluded resort with select clientele. After the manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) hears about the family’s first-day plan indecision, he suggests a private beach for a day trip — one he only mentions to certain folks — and that he’ll make all the arrangements. Joined by Charles (Rufus Sewel), his trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), and Charles’ mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), their driver drops them off but refuses to carry any gear down for them, instead issuing hasty instructions and promising to return in the late afternoon. Trouble begins when a woman’s body is found floating in the shallows — and a previous arrival (Aaron Pierre) is skulking nearby for reasons unknown — but something is also affecting the children… who have inexplicably aged years in a matter of hours.
Writer, director, and producer M. Night Shyamalan turns in what could easily be a Blumhouse or Ghost House movie production, a classic trapped-in-a-box theme where time itself is terrorizing its victims compressing a lifetime into a day. After an oddly similar setup of a recent cinematic reboot of Fantasy Island that fell very flat — in spite of a few clever but poorly realized ideas — Old takes its time revealing clues and exploring the five stages of grief while unfolding in its own time. Rapid aging may not seem to be as exciting as typical slasher or supernatural fare, but it’s something anyone can relate to and have different thoughts about over one’s lifetime. Is the on-screen experience worth a theater visit, or is the subject itself too taboo as a reminder of what awaits all mortals on this Earth?
While masquerading as science fiction, the premise makes as much sense as zombies, unless viewers are resolved to the fantasy or magic origins of such an idea. M. Night sets his rules and constructs a disturbing tale of how different folks deal with slowly dying since birth, using a combination of makeup, actor swaps, and special effects to suspend disbelief. What works is mashing up a drama where an inescapable situation must be endured with a mystery adventure of trying to escape a diabolical fate… and every passing second counts. While a much-needed denouement provides a bare minimum amount of closure, the film’s bread and butter is an actor’s class in shuffling off one’s mortal coil, whether going quietly into that good night or fighting to the last breath.
There are plenty of body horror moments, enough to question why a PG-13 rating was settled upon instead of going all-in on an R rating. The most twisted effect could easily have not worked, yet it’s so macabre that the production earns the moment. A mix of personalities along with other reveals keep the plot humming along as the story unfolds, but the subject is one hitting so close to home viewers may reject it purely for Hostel levels of senseless torture. Shyamalan doesn’t hold back, as usual inserting himself in as a character in what may be the most screen time he’s granted himself; if nothing else, it’s ballsy for a creator to hold himself responsible via an in-story position for what he’s doing to characters of his own invention.
Make no mistake: Old is bleak with intentionally few distractions; nothing here is meant to make viewers feel comfortable. For anyone who’d consider this a trigger warning and/or those who can’t stand any of the creator’s earlier work, they’ll want to steer clear of this since there’s nothing here to change their minds. Fans of Shyamalan, however, will be in for the ride, as well as those who enjoy slow-burn cerebral thrillers and don’t mind a bit of introspection.
Old is rated PG-13 for for strong violence, disturbing images, suggestive content, partial nudity, brief strong language, and wondering how long pasta salad actually keeps for.
Three skull recommendation out of four