Seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s Old shouldn’t feel this tiring or tedious

The latest mystery-thriller from M. Night Shyamalan sees a group of people stranded on a beach and facing a mysterious malady. Steve Newall found the whole experience pretty disappointing, even if there wasn’t a total lack of entertainment to be had.

By now we should all have a general idea of what we’re going to get with an M. Night Shyamalan film. They don’t often really work in a traditional sense—some of the filmmaking choices are headscratchers, dialogue is frequently baffling, and I haven’t even mentioned the T-word. (OK, it’s “twist”). Oddly, this combination can frequently make for entertaining viewing, and every now again spark into something unorthodoxly exciting, even euphoric.

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If you were expecting to hear a “but,” you are on the right track. When a Shyamalan film doesn’t click, I will it to lean further into its failings, praying that’s the way to another The Happening. But the risk with his approach is that without the requisite wow factor to his choices, the results can just be unwieldy, even clunky.

Like Old, a film that makes a number of observations about the preciousness of time, and yet is somewhat of a drag to sit through. To explain why, I’m going to have to go into some spoilers about what feels like an interesting Twilight Zone premise stretched out to an unearned 108 minutes—but nothing you wouldn’t have observed or deduced from the film’s trailer.

A couple, Guy and Prisca (Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps), goes on a resort vacation with their eleven-year-old daughter Maddox and six-year-old son Trent, and the first stretch of the film sees us getting to know them better via a series of stilted scenes. Bernal and Krieps are giving it their best—they manage to infuse this very sterile film with some legitimate human emotion—but are hampered at every turn by Shyamalan’s writing and apparent need to treat the audience like a bunch of dummies with everything spelled out via unnatural dialogue.

Disappointingly, there’s not enough oddity to make the setup enjoyable, despite Shyamalan relishing multiple attempts to hint at what’s to come (again, what you’ll already know from the trailer) thanks to inauthentic, unsuccessful foreboding crowbarred into actors’ mouths. Thankfully, before too long, the family finds themselves at a secluded beach they’ve been tipped off about by resort staff (“our little secret”, sheesh). Joining them are sufficient other characters to suggest there will be personality conflicts and cannon fodder to come, and soon we join the beachgoers in discovering their aging process is mysteriously working at an accelerated rate.

The first evidence is with the kids, who take little time in growing into new, older actors (Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff and Eliza Scanlan, another child having come along for the trip—thankfully so, given one particular plot point). I couldn’t tell just how robust and internally consistent the film’s science is—maybe I didn’t really care—but at one point Prisca queries why hair and nails aren’t growing at a rapid rate too. Another character ventures an opinion, they all move on, and all of it feels like Shyamalan reassuring us that he has this all worked out, ok. OK?!

In a rare resemblance to actual people, the characters try to leave the beach but are prevented by mysterious circumstances. Clearly, if they do not escape soon, their afternoon will become a death sentence, so the theorising and attempts to flee intensify—and so do the tensions.

Along the way, there’s not a total lack of entertainment to be had. And alongside capable leads Bernal and Krieps, McKenzie and Wolff are excellent as young kids uncomfortable inside their aging bodies, their personalities also accelerated biologically. There’s not a total absence of narrative opportunities mined from the premise—just not enough. Plus, some characters die, and that’s always a bonus—one nightmarish demise, in particular, being enjoyably gross. And as for something we see removed from someone… well, you’ll know it if you see it, and it’s pretty foul.

Do we find out why this is all happening? Yeah. Is it satisfying—or even particularly interesting? I mean…

Being old is one thing. Seeing Old shouldn’t be this tiring or tedious.