If you like watching movies out of the corner of your eye and gripping your seat in suspense, you’ll love M. Night Shyamalan’s latest offering, Old. Advertised as an M. Night Shyamalan trip, Old turns a simple family vacation into a terrifying race for survival. Old falls in line with M. Night’s other twilight zone genre movies, like The Happening and The Visit.
The movie starts with a family of four going on an island vacation together. The glimpse of happy family life is tinged with the tension of impending doom, captured in both the actors’ chemistry and tense cinematography. The happy family motif is quickly dispelled, as flaws among the family dynamic surface. Mom and dad are breaking up, there are hints at a terminal tumor, and the kids are psychologically affected by their parent’s stressors. These tensions set the stage for amplified tragedy when the family visits a sinister, remote beach.
The overtly friendly hotel manager insists they visit an exclusive spot on the island. Another family and some other chattel arrive at the age-draining beach, chauffeured by none other than our own Hitchcock-inspired M. Night Shyamalan. Most of the aspiring sunbathers have interpersonal issues and debilitating diseases. The sickness of body and soul being bound together is prevalent throughout the movie, and we see each character struggle through the accelerated aging process in both body and mind.
They are not setup on the beach for very long before the first body floats up in the ocean and bumps into the youngest member of the family. After that shock, the action takes off, and we are immersed in a race against the clock as everyone trapped on the beach ages one year for every half hour. Suspense builds as the children are the first indicators that something is amiss in the private cove. Older characters and pets start to die off, pre-teens become teens in a matter of hours and everyone panics.
Each character’s own long-term illness accelerates as they age. Tumors, Multiple Sclerosis, heart disease (even a calcium deficiency) become terrifyingly fast killers on the beach. Mental illness accelerates as well, creating more macabre sequences on the beach. M. Night ups the ante, with more insane and crazy twists as the characters struggle for their lives.
The pacing of this film is M. Night’s best to date. He will grab you with a visual shock, make your imagination squirm with glimpses of gore, then give you a quick break with character exposition. The audience catches a breather as they join the characters in asking questions. What is going on? How do we get out? What would you do? With time sped up, new life-or-death tragedies mount up against the cast as the audience gets to ponder “what you would do in this situation?”, just for a moment, before being thrust into another whirlwind scenario.
Cinematography plays a strong role in sucking the audience into the growing tension. There are a lot of close-up shots, so you feel you’re face to face with the actors. You see the subtle effects of age set in with each close-up. The whirlwind effect that combines some long shots with beautiful panoramas of the beach bury you in action and makes you feel like you are stuck in a circle of terror with the characters.
It is an M. Night Shyamalan movie, so it would be no fun to give away the reveal. Ever since The Sixth Sense, M. Night hasn’t had a fair shake at twist endings, having to make them more outlandish and unpredictable so all the fankids don’t spoil the twist online. There are however, plenty of hints and clues strewn in the sand for the viewer to pick up on.
After Covid, many of us feel like we’ve lived a decade in one year. Everyone has new lines on their faces that we are seeing for the first time and psychological scars from isolation. Old forces its victims to make split-second decisions that affect their shortened lifetimes, just like Covid did to us all. That being said, Old is the perfect movie for a return to theaters in the post-Covid era.
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