Reviewed by: Keith Rowe
A group of people find themselves trapped on an isolated beach, dealing with a deadly phenomenon, perhaps mirroring for some viewers the experience of being in Covid-19 lock-down, and the uncertainty of the Coronavirus pandemic
Rapid aging / Fear of growing old, pain and suffering
Fear of death
Fear of the unknown —What’s happening? Why? Is there a way to stop it?
What is DEATH? and WHY does it exist? Answer in the Bible
What is the FINAL JUDGMENT? and WHAT do you need to know about it? Answer
What is ETERNAL DEATH?
What is ETERNAL LIFE? and what does the Bible say about it?
Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer
What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer
Does God feel our pain? Answer
Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer
Gael García Bernal … Guy
Vicky Krieps … Prisca
Rufus Sewell … Charles
Alex Wolff … Trent Aged 15
Thomasin McKenzie … Maddox Aged 16
Abbey Lee … Chrystal
Nikki Amuka-Bird … Patricia
Ken Leung … Jarin
Eliza Scanlen … Kara Aged 15
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|Director||M. Night Shyamalan|
Blinding Edge Pictures
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irector M. Night Shyamalan is back with a new thriller, “Old.”
The story opens with a vacationing family driving through a tropical paradise. After checking into an opulent seaside resort, the hospitality manager invites the family to visit a private beach. They’re joined by two other families; a mysterious man, who lingers like a statue near the rocky cliffs, was already on the beach before they arrived.
The first clue that everything isn’t okay comes when one of vacationers finds a dead body. Then, the adults are shocked when they discover their kids are growing older by the hour. Every attempt to leave the beach is met with failure or death and, judging from how fast their children are growing, the adults estimate they’ll die of old age within twenty-four hours.
A mystery coupled with a ticking time bomb plot device is usually an effective combination, and so it is here. But, before we’ve gone too far down the slot canyon of analysis, I want to make an admission that might make some scoff. I admire Shyamalan.
His early successes, “The Sixth Sense” (1999), “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Signs” (2002), put Shyamalan on the fast track to becoming the next Alfred Hitchcock. Praise turned to ridicule with the release of a middling rash of films, including “The Village” (2004), “Lady in the Water” (2006), and “The Happening” (2008). Ironically, Shyamalan created his own monster when (ever smarter) audiences came to expect, and quickly deduce, his patented twist endings.
Shyamalan’s name became synonymous with box office flops, and for a season it looked like his career was finished. But to his credit, Shyamalan took the criticism and failure in stride and kept trying (hence my admiration). In recent years, he’s delivered several modest successes, including the thought-provoking psychological thrillers “Split” (2016) and “Glass” (2019).
Shyamalan, who also wrote the story (adapted from the graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre-Oscar Levy) and appears in a cameo role, delivers some skillful and inventive directing in “Old.” The unsettling vertigo effect inside the canyon is highly effective and the shots of kids freezing in place when playing a game of tag are downright creepy. Thankfully, he takes a minimalist approach when showing gory or graphic action; many of these incidents take place off-screen, with a few notable exceptions (see below).
With the assistance of his crew, Shyamalan makes the plight of his aging characters an immersive experience for the audience. A blurry filter is used to depict a man’s failing vision. A woman covers her right ear and everything in the theater goes silent… a dramatic way to reveal that she’s deaf in her left ear.
On the otherhand, Shyamalan’s dialog is wanting. In the first few minutes of the film, the themes of aging and time are delivered with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Such contrived lines include: “I can’t wait to hear it when you’re older,” “You’re too young,” “Don’t wish away this moment” and “Sit up, you don’t want to be hunched when you grow up.” These, and many other, examples reinforce my opinion that Shyamalan should’ve hired a professional scribe to co-write or, at the very least, polish his script.
Soliciting help from an established screenwriter would’ve benefited the narrative, too. The story’s structure is fairly taut until the very end, when the plot takes a sharp left turn and the audience goes “Ahh!” Shyamalan should’ve wrapped things up right there.
Instead, he takes extra time to explain what the audience has already figured out. Shyamalan ties up every plot thread, but he should’ve left a few details untidy… to preserve the mystery and allow the audience to fill in some of the gaps. Aside from a few obvious nitpicks (wouldn’t nails, hair/beards grow quicker in an environment with rapidly advancing time, wouldn’t the aging adults have more gray hair and wrinkles, and why don’t the older and younger actors playing the same person look anything alike?), the movie’s ending is its most significant misstep.
Though lacking in star power, the movie features performances from an ensemble of established adult actors (Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung and Embeth Davidtz) as well as some fresh faces (Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie and Alexa Swinton). The multi-generational (and racially diverse) cast not only serves the story, it gives each member of the audience someone to identify with, which is also true of the movie’s themes (aging and relationship issues will resonate with adults, while teen romance and thriller sequences will appeal to younger audience members).
The film’s tropical vistas, shot in the Dominican Republic, are absolutely gorgeous. It could be argued that the beach, as the central locus of action, is the “main character” of the movie. Perhaps this is why Shyamalan didn’t hire superstars… he didn’t want his location to be upstaged.
Some sidebar items: “Old” is one of Shyamalan’s only films not to be set in his hometown, Philadelphia (however, the story’s main family says they’re from Philly). Though an unintended analogy, Shyamalan has keenly noted that this story, which involves characters trapped on a beach, is reminiscent of the way many people have felt stuck during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The movie “The Missouri Breaks” (1976), starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, is mentioned twice by Sewell’s character. Since the plot of that film doesn’t resemble the story in “Old” in any way, it’s a curious and esoteric reference.
Playing an overconfident swimmer in “Old,” Leung is perhaps best known for his role in another tropical island mystery, TVs “Lost.” One young boy says he collects conch shells. This may be a reference to “Lord of the Flies,” yet another island survival tale/morality play.
NUDITY AND SEXUAL CONTENT: Many skimpy bathing suits are seen throughout the movie.
A woman disrobes and walks into the water. The entire length of her naked body is shown from the rear. Later, a similar shot reveals the same woman entering the water and she’s framed from just below the buttocks to above her head.
A completely naked dead woman is discovered floating face down in the water. An overhead shot reveals her completely exposed backside. Another shot of her right side reveals the side of her breast and buttocks.
Though not shown, a teenage couple copulates and, due to the island’s accelerated time, the teen girl is five months pregnant a few screen minutes later. We see the bare belly of the pregnant teen but are spared from having to see the baby’s delivery. The teen boy, who’s actually only a 6-year-old, claims he didn’t know that’s how babies were made.
VIOLENCE AND GRAPHIC CONTENT: There are a number of sequences where people are stabbed with knives. Though the scenes aren’t overly bloody, and most of the violence takes place off-screen, we can hear slicing and stabbing sounds repeatedly throughout the sequences, which is unnerving. Since characters quickly heal from surface wounds, the act of continually slicing an individual becomes a sadistic form of torture.
One man is cut with a rusty blade. Sores and dark patches quickly cover his skin, and he dies in a gruesome display.
The naked corpse (mentioned above) is shown completely decomposed in one scene. Fortunately, we only see a section of her rib cage.
A doctor performs a surgery on a woman. After an initial incision quickly heals, he makes another cut and others grab the flaps of skin and pull them back so the surgeon can operate. In a grotesque display, a gigantic tumor is removed from the woman’s abdomen.
A woman has seizures on two different occasions. Both scenes are graphic, and the second shows her foaming at the mouth.
In perhaps the most graphic display in the movie, a woman’s bones break and rapidly heal at awkward angles. The result is a sickening tangle of contorted limbs.
PROFANITIES AND VULGARITIES: “Old” includes one f-word. Other expletives include: “J*sus,” “Oh my G*d” (4), “G*d d*mn” (1), “G*d” (1), and “Oh G*d” (1), “h*ll” (3), “d*mn” (3), “a**” (1), and “sh*t” (1).
In addition to its main theme concerning the fear of growing old and dying, there are several ancillary themes in the movie, including anxieties surrounding chronic illness and loss (of physical abilities, mental health, memory, cherished people and pets). The Bible has a lot to say about such fears:
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” —Matthew 6:34 NIV
Early in the movie, we learn that this is the family’s last vacation together since the parents are getting a divorce. The parents argue in one scene; the man says he’s always looking to the future, but his wife is always looking to the past. In his mind, this is one of many irreconcilable differences substantiating their divorce. However, the Bible is clear on the matter:
When the woman tells her daughter of the impending divorce, the young girl (in the body of a teen) intuitively asks if such a decision was prompted by infidelity. The woman confesses that she cheated on her husband. She says, “What I did feels like an illusion.” This is a strange reaction to her daughter learning of her transgression, and is a poor attempt at justifying her behavior. Extra-marital relations are forbidden in the Seventh Commandment:
“You shall not commit adultery.” —Exodus 20:14 NIV
On a similar subject, when the two teens fornicate, they’re acting outside of God’s will.
The movie also has a lot to say about time and how we choose to use it. With only thirteen hours to live, two characters decide to make a sandcastle on the beach. Some would view this as a waste of precious time. Others might see it as a shared experience providing an enjoyable distraction from the crushing reality of their impending doom. The scene posits the message: no matter how bad things get, always take some time to have fun and enjoy the moment.
“Old” is a thriller wrapped in a mystery and tied together with a universal theme: the fear of growing old and dying. It’s man vs. Nature stuck on fast-forward.
“Old” isn’t top-shelf Shyamalan, nor does it need to be. That seems to be one of the main ingredients in Shyamalan’s resurgence; he isn’t trying to make the next “Signs.” He’s just trying to make films with an intriguing premise and relatable characters rather than a thrill-fest with a trick ending. It’s a formula that seems to be working.
In the end, this isn’t a great film, but it’s a well-constructed mystery with a few strong scares and some food for thought you can snack on after you’ve left the theater.
Parting tip: When someone invites you to a private beach, go snorkeling.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.