Why do people hate M. Night Shyamalan so much? Even Alfred Hitchcock made some bad movies. Ever seen Rope which is long and tedious even at just 80 minutes? Or how about Topaz and Family Plot seemed like someone trying to be Hitchcock. Hook is considered Steven Spielberg’s worst movie but people still love it.
The problem is that with The Sixth Sense he used movie tropes to work against us. Take the scene of Bruce Willis and Toni Collette sitting in the living room and we’re led to believe they just got through talking when Haley Joel Osment’s character walks in. And like a magician/illusionist, you’re too busy watching their hands for the trick, then watching the trick itself. It’s like the Gorilla Experiment in which we’re told to watch young adults throw around a ball, but people have said they’ve missed seeing someone in a gorilla costume walk in and stand in the center of view then walk out.
In many ways, Shyamalan has used this technique and people don’t like it. Unbreakable was actually about a man discovering he had superhero powers but people were expecting a supernatural thriller. Signs was about a man realizing that a higher power had a reason for events concerning a possible alien invasion. And The Village was more about the way people can be monsters, but marketing made it out to be a creature feature. When the twist came, people felt cheated.
There really isn’t much of a twist in Old. It’s pretty obvious what is happening if you pay attention. Maybe that’s why people don’t like him. He makes us pay attention. We can surf on our phones or have chitchat with someone else in the room and still get the gist.
Old is based on the graphic novel Sandcastles by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. It’s mostly set on a secluded beach at an undisclosed tropical resort. This is a change for Shyamalan as most of his movies are set in Pennsylvania, most notably Philadelphia. The change of scenery actually helps because it’s best when a director works out of his comfort zone. Filming took place in the Dominican Republic.
The plot revolves around a family showing up at the resort. Guy Cappa (Gael Garcia Bernal), his wife, Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and their kids, Trent, 6 (Nolan Rivers) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton) seem like the perfect nuclear family on vacation. Despite it looking like paradise, the family is already dealing with a medical emergency as Prisca has been diagnosed with a stomach tumor. And she and Guy are planning on divorcing. This is a final family vacation.
At the resort, they meet another family. There’s Charles (Rufus Sewell), a surgeon and his wife, Chrystal (Abbey Lee), and their young daughter, Kara (Kylie Begley), whose 6 like Trent. Also, Charles’ mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) is traveling with them.
At the resort, they are immediately met with cocktail drinks from the staff and there are fountain drinks for the kids. A married couple, Jarin and Patricia Carmichael (Ken Leung and Nikki Amuka-Bird) are also vacationing but Patricia has a seizure while on the deck patio. She’s a psychologist while Jarin is a nurse and Charles comes to her aide quickly.
Trent strikes up a friendship with a young boy, Idlib (Kailen Jude), the nephew of the resort manager (Gustaf Hammerstan), who tells them of the beach the next day. Both families are driven out there with Jarin and Patricia coming later.
At first, it seems like a great place. But there is some confusion as a hotel employee (Shyamalan in an acting role) who drives them to the beach, gives them a large quantity of food for just a day at the beach. Maddox notices a famous rapper, Mid-Level Sedan/Brandon (Aaron Pierre) off to himself. When Trent goes swimming, he notices the nude body of a woman floating up into the cove. Sedan acts weirdly upon seeing the body and his nose is bleeding, so everyone thinks he may have done it as the result of a fight, but Sedan tells them he suffers from hemophilia and it’s part of his condition.
Trent, Maddox and Kara keep saying they’re hungry and their bathing suits feel tighter. No one can get service on their cell phones and attempts to go back through the walkway usually result in them having huge pressure on their heads and blacking out.
When Jarin and Patricia show up later, they end up talking to Trent and Maddox and Prisca walks over asking them where her kids are. It’s at this time, it’s revealed Trent and Maddox have aged and their bodies have grown, just as Kara.
Charles and Chrystal’s dog suddenly dies and Agnes suffers a fatal heart attack even though she was just fine. Very quickly, they begin to realize that somehow on the beach, they are aging at a rapid rate. Shyamalan films a lot of scenes from angles that remind me of the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder” in which all the people exist in a reality where pig-like nose faces are common. In many ways, there’s almost a Twilight Zone feel to this movie. He’s only showing us what he wants us to see. As the kids age, they are shown initially from the backs or off-screen so we don’t see their changes.
Eventually, it’s revealed they all were more or less recruited through a “prize survey” at a pharmacy to come to the beach. Along with Prisca’s stomach tumor and Patricia’s epilepsy, Chrystal suffers from hypocalcemia and Charles, himself, has been suffering from schizophrenia and begins to attack Sedan with a pocket knife, but the wounds quickly heal.
I won’t tell anymore. This may not be one of Shyamalan’s best works, but it’s not one of his worst. It’s rough around the edges but the notion of people being stuck somewhere and can’t get out as time quickly passes might hit too hard for those who have been stuck at home during the Covid pandemic. You can’t watch the movie without drawing parallels. People might talk of never wanting to leave a nice beach on a sunny day, but what happens when you can’t.
And while most people will probably refuse to watch it just because of Shyamalan’s connection to it, it’s not a bad B-movie thriller. Just don’t go into it expecting some big twist. The moral of the movie is how short life sometimes can seem as we get older so it’s best to value what time we can.
I also want to add I think some of the criticism of Shyamalan comes from his skin color and ancestry. It seems non-white and female filmmakers are usually put up higher on a pedestal that when they have one misstep it hurts more. Shyamalan has been making movies since the early 1990s, so he must be doing something right.
What do you think? Please comment.