“Getting old is not for sissies.” – Bette Davis
M. Night Shyamalan movies always have a great concept. It’s in the execution where things get dicey. When he is on top of his game he’s one of the most interesting filmmakers around. When he’s not, well, at least he’s spectacular in his failure.
Shyamalan’s latest venture, “Old,” lands somewhere on the positive side of in between. Based on a French graphic novel (bring me all the existential bleakness!), the movie tells the story of a diverse group of strangers who find themselves trapped on a stunning tropical beach where everyone begins aging rapidly, roughly two years for every hour that passes.
As children become adults over the course of an afternoon, everyone struggles to comprehend and escape their combined and mysterious fate.
At the heart of the movie is the nuclear family of parents Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and kids Trent and Maddox (played at various ages by various actors but most effectively as young adults by Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie, respectively). The family’s love for each other holds them together while most of the rest of the group spirals apart.
While most of the time feeling like a fleshed-out version of an average “Twilight Zone” episode, “Old” at least keeps a brisk pace as Shyamalan whisks the camera up and down the beach as the doomed vacationers encounter various catastrophes or bewilderments brought on by their predicament.
“Old” is at its worst in the moments where it tries to be scary, leaning hard into body-horror creep-outs that feel forced at best. The movie shines in the quieter moments when dread and confusion permeate this tropical paradise. There’s also space for characters to experience serenity and even happiness as their lives slip away second by second.
You don’t have to squint to see that “Old” is an allegory for the fleeting nature of life and the movie is certainly ham-fisted at times in trying to drive this point home. But there’s also a haunting beauty to a movie that is willing to stare directly at mortality and (almost) not blink.
“Old” may not be perfect, but it does give you some interesting things to chew on. There are worse ways to spend two hours of your life.
“Old” is rated PG-13 for strong violence, disturbing images, suggestive content, partial nudity and brief strong language.