M. Night Shyamalan's Twists Are Getting 'Old'

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Starring Gael García Bernal, Alex Wolff, Eliza Scanlen, Thomasin McKenzie, Aaron Pierre, Vicky Krieps, Abbey Lee, Embeth Davidtz, Rufus Sewell.

BY Paul DikaPublished Jul 23, 2021

M. Night Shyamalan has had quite the rollercoaster of a career, with success coming at an early age, with films like The Sixth Sense, Signs and Unbreakable, only to be followed by a series of underwhelming efforts like The Lady in the Water and The Happening. In recent years, he's bounced back somewhat, with Split and Glass giving audiences the mind-bending, left-turning, plot-twisting experiences they have come to expect from Shyamalan films. His latest effort, Old, serves up more of the same, but, unfortunately, with less to chew on than his best works.

Old follows a family of four as they kick off their vacation at an idyllic tropical resort. Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and Guy (Gael García Bernal) play a mom and dad whose marriage appears to be on the rocks, all while Prisca is suffering from an unidentified medical condition. This will be the last vacation before telling their six-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl they're planning to separate, but Trent and Maddox (both played by several actors) already know the relationship is fractured. Shortly after arriving, they receive an invitation from the resort, which has offered to shuttle them to a secluded beach. The family is unexpectedly joined by another family, and two other couples who, not long after arriving, begin to notice peculiarities. The kids are growing, the adults are wrinkling, and the poor little chihuahua just trying to enjoy an afternoon on the water has died. Everyone realizes there can be only one explanation: the beach is causing them to rapidly age.

Almost every Shyamalan film requires a willing suspension of disbelief, but even if the audience comes into the film with that mindset, Old is still hard to swallow. The people trapped on the beach come to a strong understanding of the phenomenon so quickly, one would think they would have seen the film's trailer. On top of that, a lot of the dialogue feels like a breakdown of beach logic, as the characters apply their mathematical skills to determine just how many years they're aging, and how quickly that's happening. They're able to jump to the conclusion that they must all be there for some reason, leading them to try and uncover what they all have in common.

Leaving the beach also proves to be a challenge, as anyone who tries to leave the way they came blacks out and ends up back where they started. There must be a rational explanation for that, and so there is further rationalization of a scenario that already makes very little sense logically. So much dialogue is reminiscent of the stage setting in the first act of Inception, where all the dream layers are explained; in Old, that type of dialogue plays throughout the film. Not very appealing.

And unlike previous Shyamalan films, because there is such a focus on the surreality of it all, the characters feel empty. The circumstances and supernatural element are the priority, as the film progresses towards the big reveal, but the lack of any character development in favour of the strange happenings means that the payoff lacks any stakes — especially for viewers familiar with Shyamalan, who know some kind of twist is on the way. If a twist is predictable, and the characters' only purpose is to set the stage for it, what's the appeal?

There's not much else to say about Old. The characters are bland, the story is built to serve Shyamalan's favourite plot device, and even the scary moments fail to land. If you do decide to watch the film, and it feels familiar, that's because it's been done before.

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