by Philip Price
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Vicky Krieps, Gael Garcia Bernal & Thomasin McKenzie
Runtime: 1 hour & 48 minutes
“Old” is both very much an M. Night Shyamalan film in that it telegraphs the film's themes and intentions clearly and almost immediately with it's plain and unaffected dialogue while at the same time possessing something of an unidentifiable spirit that's never been detected in one of his pictures before. There are hints of the same tonality and graveness the filmmaker employed in films like “Unbreakable” and “The Village,” while also sporting just enough of a zany edge to draw comparisons to “The Happening.”
The core family, led by Vicky Krieps and Gael Garcia Bernal, establish early on they too are of two opposite sides of the same coin as Bernal's Guy assesses risk for a living and constantly considers the possibilities of a what *could* happen Krieps' Prisca works in a museum placing her world firmly in the past at all times. Their two children, Maddox and Trent (as played by varying actors at different stages of their life, but largely by Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff), obviously serving as the rim or edge of that coin that holds them together. While on a sweepstakes of a vacation they are whisked off to a private beach with a select few other guests which is where all the weirdness begins to occur.
With themes as overt as time, its passage, the cycle of life, the changing of the seasons, and so on it's not difficult to grasp what Shyamalan might be trying to say, but to believe that is all “Old” has up its sleeve would be to belittle it. This is where the core concept shows its strength as the basic premise - a group of people, each from different walks of life who all share an unknown bond, are abandoned in a remote location where they begin to age rapidly - is attention-grabbing enough; providing all the writer/director needs to convey those ideas. It is in the details of what unfolds though, where Shyamalan can go with this core concept, that exemplifies how good he is at putting his own spin on things while simultaneously illustrating how much potential he leaves unfulfilled. One could point to single shots littered throughout the film as examples of his cleverness that make it easy to appreciate the style and essence of the film and while the third act doesn't necessarily sport an earth-shattering twist it lands in such a way that is strangely satisfying not for its sense of surprise but for its attempt at breaking down the artifice that is good and evil.
While “Old” gives audiences a number of reasons to believe Shyamalan is back in the best way (truth is, he never really went away), it also offers plenty of proof that there are some things the director will never be able to shake ... chief among them being his inability to forego that open sensibility he gives to his characters and their dialogue for real, grounded personalities that might imbue us to them so that we might consider them as living, breathing human beings who we care about and care what happens to them under these crazy circumstances.