Old (2021)

“It’s hard to explain.”

There’s been a clear, consistent, and blatantly obvious issue with the last few movies from the self-proclaimed visionary filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, and it’s that the man seems to no longer care about his characters. They’re more pawns than they are people, all deployed to serve his inevitable and at this point trite plot twist, and the big reveal is given more thought than the humans acting out the ridiculousness ever are. Old is a prime example of his shortcomings as a storyteller, and while it’s a visual tour de force for nearly the entire runtime, it’s lacking courage and a brain and a heart all whilst longing to go home. Old feels like a horror take on the fairy tale of Dorothy’s trek through Oz, and it is the definition of surface level beauty. There isn’t much beneath the makeup.

They arrive at a destination resort. It seems as though Prisca (Vicky Krieps) responded to a spam email, and managed to she convince her distanced and nearly divorced husband Guy (Gael García Bernal) to take their children Trent (Nolan River) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton) on a getaway adventure to this exotic setting. The place is idyllic, almost creepily and suspiciously perfect, but the family is so close to being torn at the seams that they look past all of the question marks one might normally ask, and are literally driven to a beach where their lives are fast forwarded and forever altered, in both the physical and spiritual sense.

Old has such a great concept and none of the execution to back up its ingenious conceit. The big reveal almost becomes blatantly obvious in the final third, especially because at this point it’s so expected from this filmmaker. And even though the characters are living a nightmare where they rapidly age, they never behave or talk as real people actually would. They’re plot points inserted here and killed off there, all serving the story of a writer who wants to say something profoundly important, yet who no longer knows how to do that through the individuals he conjures. M. Night Shyamalan is a talented, at times even daring director in desperate need of a better and more grounded writing partner.

Expertly photographed by cinematographer Mike GioulakisOld is hands down among the prettiest looking pictures I’ve seen so far this year. Its compositions are painterly, exquisite, and reminiscent of one of Tarsem Singh’s deeply saturated early films. But that is all on the exterior of something that’s so desperate to be deep yet is so plainly and painfully shallow. It has the curb appeal of a hot home for sale that’s secretly empty studs and bare beams on the inside with decaying floors about to fall through, and it might have the most hamstrung final third act of 2021. M. Night Shyamalan uses some outright racist rhetoric and exploits mental illness – yet again – as a plot device, and they both erupt in flames. His early films were bold. This one, like his recent output, is simply Old. Here, beauty can briefly be found in the images of the be older, not the redundant direction of the beholder.

“There has to be a way out.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

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