After impressing audiences with his breakout suspense features, The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000), M. Night Shyamalan unarguably became one of the biggest drop-offs in modern cinema. The chronology of his filmography is stunning to consider, from the financial hits Signs (2002) and The Village (2004), to the disappointing Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008), to the laughable The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013). The writer-director appeared to recapture fans with The Visit (2015) and Split (2016), but the underwhelming feedback of the latter’s follow-up, Glass (2019) showed he still hadn’t completely recovered his relevancy. Now with his latest release, Old, is Shyamalan back on track or still dwindling in mediocrity?
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On an exotic island resort, Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) take their young children, Trent (Nolan River) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton), on a final family vacation before the parents reveal they’re planning a divorce. Prisca is also recovering from a benign stomach tumor. Only a day into the trip, the family is offered an exclusive visit to a private beach next to the hotel which you can only enter by invitation. The foursome, along with another family (Charles (Rufus Sewell), his young wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and their toddler Kara (Kyle Bailey)) and a couple (Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Jarin (Ken Leung)) takes up the invite. Very quickly everyone on the beach starts feeling strangely ill, and then they discover they’re rapidly aging for no known reason.
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Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie and Eliza Scanlen play Trent, Maddox and Kara as young adults. On par with Shyamalan’s usual films, Old has some glaringly awkward exposition and acting, especially in the first act. There isn’t a crazy or dumb twist by the end like one would expect with M. Night. In fact, I would say it’s the opposite, with the outcome already easy to tell from the start. The concept of Old itself is pretty ridiculous and the movie feels boring and slow-paced, mostly because we don’t get to see the characters naturally develop because of the fast aging. I have to say though, this is probably the best and most talented group of actors to ever work with Shyamalan, thanks to either the filmmaker’s intuition while writing the script, or a stellar casting director. Unfortunately, it’s just a struggle to see some great modern faces from foreign cinema and indie films be wasted with Shyamalan’s regular brand of schlock. Krieps is barely hiding her disinterest in the material, while McKenzie is overly hamming it up playing a tween girl in an adult body.
At this point, I don’t know whether to roll my eyes or pity Shyamalan’s efforts and ultimate reputation. You can see from interviews and even some of his direction decisions he genuinely cares about making movies, most recently with Old. But it’s just hard to appreciate work where the dialogue and plot motivation remind me of projects from my early film school years.
Have you seen Old? Do you think M. Night Shyamalan’s early success was a fluke? Tell us in the comments!
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