Old (Review)

The new divisive film from M. Night Shyamalan is divisive purely because it is an M. Night Shymalan movie. Few other filmmakers have the arguable gift to force viewers to find positives in their films, especially as evidence to the contrary keeps accruing. This film is very Shyamalan to the extent it could not come from anybody else; yet, I have the sneaking suspicion that, were he to use a pseudonym, this movie would transition from divisive to universally derided.

Let’s get it out of the way, it is a film about a beach that makes you old. Some families, or general vacationers, find themselves at an exclusive resort and then are invited to visit an even more exclusive beach. That very same beach that makes you old. Of course, they do not know that it makes them old until, well, it starts to make them old. They notice it in the children first, in an utterly awful scene where our former 6 and 11 year olds talk to another group on the beach. They stand offscreen, we only hear their voices. We watch who they are talking to and one of the onscreen pair declares, for no reason but to facilitate this plot point, that he is very good at guessing ages. He guesses 11 years old for the 6 year old and refuses to accept that he is wrong. The camera finally reveals two brand new actors in place of the children, that have both considerably grown and changed. Apparently they did not notice this themselves, I guess fair enough, but apparently the brother didn’t notice the sister was now a 16 year old and looked completely different.

This is but one example of the overreliance on ridiculous contrivance and the central lack of any logic. The film alludes to a sense of mental maturing alongside the physical ageing, then implies our characters do not mentally mature and mostly just makes things up as it goes along. Every now and then it stops to drop a whole load of exposition, with the feel of a LOST style info dump, but even worse that the lowest points of that show. Characters go from not even noticing six years of growth in a child to being able to work out high level theories about what is going on, why they can’t leave and what this all means, seemingly through deductive reasoning. This is a symptom of the complete lack of continuity in the plot, where the film just spaces out its reveals to you and hands them out directly to the audience regardless of character. Lore and information is coming and any voice box will be used to convey it.

All of this is in keeping with the abysmal script. Shyamalan has never been one for naturalistic dialogue, maintaining an affected style. This is matched by the overall cinematography which seems to have no idea where to put the camera, except for in the wrong place. It is oddly reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (a film I like), with the inhuman and purely declarative dialogue suggesting something uncanny or off. However, in Old, this falls flat. This could work in concert with the skewed cinematic language but it doesn’t actually fit with what the film is trying to do. You can make arguments in favour of the dialogue and the approach but the film is trying to present a ludicrous premise in a realist way, to the point it gets bogged down in science and wants to make the ending into actual societal critique. This means we are just stuck in this uncanny hell, where every line feels wrong and the look of the film just feels off. It is not evocative nor is it interesting, if anything it actively works against a film that could have worked better if the film’s narrative, and purpose, leant into being strange. The end result just feels deficient.

This is a terrible film. The ending it goes towards is predictable from the start but presented as a wild twist, despite being actually rather minor (it never finds that much interesting to do with its premise, though it tries a lot of things). At the end, we also have a too neat bow on everything, another reminder that this is a painfully conventional narrative piece draped in the poorly articulated language of the weird. It is host to all sorts of inconsistencies and issues, with no human heart, emotional resonance, thematic weight or political sting. It is a cocktail of bad decisions placed in an ugly glass and served at a shoddy bar.

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