“Old” (2021) – “Don’t wish your life away.”
Did your mom or dad reply with that statement after you declared a desire to be older?
“I can’t wait until I’m 16, and I can drive.”
“I can’t wait until I’m 18, and I can do what I want.”
Of course, this sentiment applies to turning 21 and reaching a retirement age too, but not necessarily landing on 30, 40, 50, 60, or 70 years young. Who wants that, right?
After watching M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old”, moviegoers probably won’t – ever again – hope that time will speed up for the sole purpose of reaching a particular age. That’s because 13 individuals (by my count) discover a secluded, tropical beach, one that wields a supernatural power in which they age two years every hour. Now, if a 14-year-old stays for 60 minutes, that kid can legally start driving! Whoo-hoo, but this is an M. Night thriller, so our on-screen friends will settle in the sand for quite a bit longer, and dastardly results will occur.
Based on “Sandcastle” (a Pierre Oscar Levy’s and Frederik Peeters’ 2010 graphic novel), this movie’s premise feels similar to “Thinner” (1996), where the lead dangerously loses weight against his will due to a curse.
These vacationing Americans are cursed too, with seemingly no way to prevent the inevitable, as they helpless sit by, do the math, and succumb to a deadly clock.
Cinematically, “Old” also feels like a “The Twilight Zone” (1959 – 1964) episode, a major plus (and see also: Shyamalan’s “Signs” (2002))! However, with a runtime of 108 minutes, we feel every wandering second, as the beachcombers suffer through rapid aging for about three-quarters of an hour (on-screen) too long. In reality, you won’t age a year or two while watching “Old”, but it may feel like it.
Since most of the film is set on this undeniably gorgeous beach – shot in the Dominican Republic – the narrative is physically self-contained and isolated in one locale. So, to keep our attention, the story needs to offer a couple of incentives.
First, offer spine-chilling visual consequences for growing 48 years older in 24 hours (if the characters stay on the beach that long).
The unnerving outcomes won’t be revealed in this review, but yes, complaining about crow’s feet will seem beyond trivial versus the happenings – that will make your hair turn white – in this particular paradise. The physical transformations range from fairly acute to extremely brutal. Shyamalan finely tunes some nifty camerawork for the reveals. Since the beach is so massive, he’ll feature a particular character or two, but at an extreme distance, and as his camera hones in on the specific persons, we – the audience – slowly grasp the shock of the wild changes. Sometimes, M. Night will employ a few gruesome outcomes that include bits of David Cronenberg body horror. Granted, “Old” is no “Videodrome” (1983), because Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, and others don’t pull guns out of (or insert VHS cassettes into) their abdomens.
The said four actors play the Cappas, an amiable family on a getaway from Philadelphia to enjoy one last vacation before Guy (Bernal) and Prisca (Krieps) begin a legal separation. The kids don’t know (at the moment) about Guy and Prisca’s ulterior motives, and this plotline builds inherent tension into their new time-warp problem. Rufus Sewell and Abbey Lee play dysfunctional parents, Ken Leung and Nikki Amuka-Bird are a childless couple, and Aaron Pierre is a famous rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan.
Granted Pierre’s character’s name is pretty darn catchy, but the random conversations between all the characters volley from a few attentive thoughts about their collective predicament and casual non-sequiturs, and we’re mostly subjected to the latter. It’s a bit of chaos on the beach, and actually, it’s madness that triggers genuine fear but some unintended laughs too.
Not that the 80 minutes or so on this devilish place are straight-out ludicrous, but the poor victims don’t have a lot of meaningful things to say. Hence, the Cappas and everyone else emotionally run in circles. At some point – and probably around the moment when one character suffers a collection of broken bones – genuine dread begins to tango with absurdity, and one might wonder if it’s worth another half hour to discover the reason for this twisted spectacle. Possibly, but based on the given events, the movie ironically takes too long to get there.
Instead, “Old” would work beautifully as a 25-minute “The Twilight Zone” episode, nestled in between “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (S2E28) and “The Midnight Sun” (S3E10).
⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Written and directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, and Rufus Sewell
Runtime: 108 minutes
Image credits: Universal Pictures