Old: Film Review


Universal Pictures

M. Night Shyamalan‘s films have been a mixed bag for me but I always approach them with high hopes because I know I’m going to get some out-there, innovative filmmaking and I was particularly excited for Old because the trailer looked awesome.

His latest supernatural horror/thriller follows Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and their two children Trent and Maddox (predominantly played by Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie) as they go on a luxury tropical holiday. One day, on the suggestion of the resort’s manager, they visit a nearby secluded beach with fellow holidaymakers Charles (Rufus Sewell), Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their daughter Kara (mostly Eliza Scanlen) and Charles’ mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant). They soon realise there is something very wrong with the beach – it causes them to age rapidly, compressing their entire lives into a single day.

For starters, what a terrific, fresh and exciting concept. The trailer hooked me in right away and I couldn’t wait to see what happened and how the beach’s horrifying powers were explained. But – and it saddens me to write this – the execution of the idea was very poor and it loses its impact when stretched across a 108-minute movie.

The worst offender is the dialogue. The screenplay is simply not good. The actors are lumbered with so much clunky exposition, explaining what’s happened and theorising what they could try next, which is understandable given the circumstances, but it all felt too heavy-handed and overdone, with characters stating the damn obvious and reeling off important information and facts in an unrealistic way. This leads me directly onto issue number two…

The acting. The weak script and thinly defined characters meant that the actors didn’t have much to work with and had to wrangle with clumsy dialogue. This was most notable with Krieps (who I loved in Phantom Thread) as she oversells all her lines and comes across like she’s “acting” rather inhabiting her character. Nobody is unscathed and there isn’t really a standout performer, although I thought McKenzie did well as a teenager trapped in a more mature body in some scenes.

I have other issues too – the film spends too long on the beach and starts to lose momentum, plus there were some unnecessary scenes at the end and not a satisfying amount of explanation for what we just saw. I’m also not convinced the timeline of events added up, and other characters on the beach – such as rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) – were literally just there to boost the body count and don’t have much to do.

But there are some positives! I found it really interesting seeing a person’s life being distilled down into one day and I liked how it looked at ageing and mortality. Shyamalan also effectively created an unsettling, unnerving and at times, chilling atmosphere, complete with a couple of cringe-inducing body horror moments. The beach setting (in the Dominican Republic) is stunning and the ageing effects were subtle and well done.

Like many of Shyamalan’s movies, Old is going to divide opinion so I recommend you checking it out just to see whether you fall into the like it or loathe it camp.

In cinemas from Friday 23rd July

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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