M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest soft-core horror movie OLD is ok. There is a burning mystery, hamfisted dialogue, forced mention of Philadelphia, and the usual final act revelation that lenses everything you have just seen in a new light. The upside? The material is elevated by exceptional performances, exquisite technical aspects, a story that flirts with poignancy, and scenery for days.
Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) have decided to take their two children on a brief island vacation before delivering some pretty awful news. As Trent age 6 (Nolan River) and Maddox at age 11 (Alexa Swinton) banter back and forth, their parents exchange glances. Arriving at the obscure yet elegant resort the family is greeted by the resort manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) and his assistant Madrid (Francesca Eastwood) who immediately serves the adults cocktails based on their previous profile inquiry preferences. Creepy but cool.
After a bit of exposition, we meet Chrystal (Abbey Lee), her 11-year-old daughter Kara (Mikaya Fisher) Chrystal’s trophy husband doctor Charles (Rufus Sewell), and Charles’s mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant). Lastly, we get to know Jarin (Ken Leung) and his wife Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird). After an odd tableside invitation from the resort manager, Guy and Prisca agree to take a resort van along with the aforementioned characters to a secluded nature preserve that leads to a stunning private beach. Everything seems to be going well until they meet famous rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) and discover his dead girlfriend. And by the way, why are the kids so hungry and why are they growing out of their clothes as the day goes on?
We already know this is a beach that ages people. We’ve been told as much. Because of that, we wait until about 45 minutes into the film before things really become interesting. While the adults in the crowd age in a less noticeable way, the children seem to rapidly tear through puberty and into young adulthood. Assisted by Shyamalan‘s ear for dialogue, we are handed the revelation that everyone on the beach appears to be aging rapidly.
So here we are. We have been set up for yet another Shyamalan mystery. Why are they aging? Why were they seemingly sent to this private beach? How will they get out?
Every performance in this movie is solid with a few standouts. García Bernal as Guy and Krieps as Prisca are wonderful. The two bring a certain gravitas to what could have been otherwise dismissed in favor of the gimmick at hand. There is a lovely, although poorly executed scene near the end of the film as the two are advanced in age (not a spoiler so do not @ me) reassessing their day. It is the heart of the film and beautiful. This is THE moment for the movie. Then there is Lee’s Chrystal. This is easily the best performance in the movie and the most deliciously tragic. Such a train wreck, so wonderful.
With credit to the original graphic novel by Pierre-Oscar Lévy, Frederick Peeters, we rise above the usual M. Night punditry to a meditation on the fleeting nature of time and life itself. Still, our two-time Oscar-nominated writer-director can’t seem to help himself from relying on his bad habits. He really likes to tell not show. Shyamalan never assumes that his audience is smarter than he is. Hence, it seems as if he can’t fathom that we have already jumped ahead of his story. His technical prowess and his ability to glean fine performances from his talent are his strong suits. Shyamalan, stop writing and stop doing extended cameos.
For the uninitiated, OLD will be a terrifying trip. This is a grand mystery, a sinister story set in paradise. Shyamalan does what he has made a living doing, but man, he has the talent to surprise us. So why not a romantic comedy next? That would be both surprising and scary.
6 Out of 10 stars