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Blu-ray Review: Old

October 19, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

M. Night Shyamalan is a filmmaker whose rises and falls over the years have been well documented. And, while he hasn’t quite regained the early highs of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, he has rebounded quite nicely in the past few years following a string of disappointments.

Now we have Shyamalan’s latest, Old, which takes place on a beach that, well, makes you old. In the vein of the director’s other high concept thrillers, it’s an intriguing premise that, despite some bumps along the way, the filmmaker embraces to deliver a mostly entertaining if uneven film.

The film follows the Cappa family, parents Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps), and their two kids Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and Trent (Nolan River). They are on an idyllic tropical vacation at a high end resort, but marriage and health problems loom large in the background. And when they are taken (by Shyamalan himself, as it were, in his obligatory cameo as a driver) to a secluded beach, strange events start to happen.

The beach is surrounded by a wall of rock, and if they stray too far from the sand, they start to feel dizzy and pass out. There are others on the beach. There’s Charles (Rufus Sewell), a paranoid doctor who is there with his wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and their young daughter Kara (Kylie Begley); another married couple, Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird); and a rapper who goes by the name Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre). A dead body washes up on shore, causing suspicion amongst the group.

Soon, Prisca notices that her children have started to rapidly age. All of the sudden, Maddox, Trent and Kara are all adolescents (played by the trio of very fine young actors Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff and Eliza Scanlen, respectively). They surmise that time is moving rapidly for some reason due to the beach’s environment, with roughly two years passing every hour, leaving them desperately trying to find a way out before they die and decay.

From here, Old plays out like a feature length episode of The Twilight Zone, and, in true Shyamalan fashion, we are kept on edge waiting for the big reveal to pull the curtain back. While I didn’t mind where the film ends up in the last act (which I won’t spoil here), the final scenes are also somewhat predictable and provide a bit too much exposition, when a more ambiguous ending might have helped the film linger more afterwards.

The biggest drawback is the screenplay, which was adapted by Shyamalan from the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters. There are a few plot holes that become more apparent when thinking back on the film, and the overall tone is somewhat uneven. The dialogue is often clunky, and the characters talk in a way that doesn’t feel entirely natural or believable, making the acting at times feel stilted despite the very talented cast. But this also adds to the uneasy feel of the film.

With the story mostly confined to a single location and taking place over about a day, Shyamalan is able to build suspense, and there are effective moments here. While admittedly heavy-handed at times, Old works as a sort of fable about time slipping through our fingers, playing into parental fears of children growing up too fast, and kids being forced to confront the mortality of their parents. The PG-13 rating keeps it from being the truly gruesome body horror that it could have been, but the unsettling nature of being unable to prevent the body’s accelerated aging process is milked for a sense of creeping dread in the film’s best moments.

The film also looks great with its picturesque, slightly ominous locales. Shot on location in the Dominican Republic, cinematographer Michael Gioulakis (reuniting with Shyamalan following Split and Glass) makes good use of the scenic vistas provided by this island. His camerawork is kinetic, with long takes that spin the camera around to show multiple characters at different spots on the beach, and some interesting camera placements that offer unique vantage points (a shot looking out from a skeleton’s ribcage seems like a first).

This is a mostly midlevel film from Shyamalan. While it frustratingly has some of the flaws found in his weaker works, it also has flashes of his undeniable talents behind the camera, and shows that he is still able to take an ambitious setup and spin it into an entertaining and mostly satisfying genre film.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray comes with a selection of ten short deleted scenes, as well as four featurettes. A code for a digital copy is also included in the package, which comes with a slipcover.

Deleted Scenes (8 minutes, 16 seconds)

Cold Open (49 seconds)

Maddox Overlooked (45 seconds)

Guy and Prisca Have a Moment (19 seconds)

Spa Options (30 seconds)

Trent’s Trunks (1 minute, 9 seconds)

Mirror Mirror (40 seconds)

Despair (56 seconds)

Maybe They’re On Their Way? (1 minute, 1 second)

Patricia’s Loss (1 minutes, 33 seconds)

Birthday Party (43 seconds)

Shyamalan Family Business (8 minutes, 5 seconds): Shyamalan talks about the themes of family in the film, as well as working with his own daughter Ishana for the first time as 2nd unit director, and having his other daughter Saleka write an emotional song that is featured prominently in the film.

All the Beach is a Stage (9 minutes, 37 seconds): Shyamalan talks about his influences on the film, and his approach to shooting it almost like a stage play with sweeping wide shots, minimal takes, and the beach serving almost as a stage.

Nightmares in Paradise (7 minutes, 27 seconds): Shyamalan talks about the unique challenges that his crew faced shooting the film on location in the Dominican, during the pandemic no less.

A Family in the Moment (6 minutes, 18 seconds): Shyamalan and the cast talk about shooting a very emotional scene late in the film, and how they all bonded as a family.

Old is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 109 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: October 19th, 2021

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