Old Synopsis: A separating couple, Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps), on a tropical holiday, discovers that the secluded beach where they are staying is somehow causing them to age rapidly, reducing their entire lives into a single day. Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Frederik Peeters.
From “The Next Spielberg” to The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan has experienced it all during his multi-decade run as a singular storyteller. While some fixate on his ambitious flops, I can’t celebrate Shyamalan enough for his wide-eyed flair behind the camera. Few directors in the mainstream can match his innovative storytelling and dynamic verve, with Shyamalan crafting an unprecedented run of haunting fables for a broad sensibility (we can ignore After Earth).
M Night’s latest high-concept endeavor, Old, pushes his filmmaking trademarks to their absolute apex. In a story where strangers combat their aging angst amidst supernatural circumstances, Old features Shyamalan returning to his peak of imaginative storytelling. It’s a breathtaking ride that only Shyamalan could dream up, intoxicating viewers through his visceral yet emotionally compelling descent into our untapped fears.
In a mainstream sphere dominated by conformist sensibilities, Shyamalan’s go-for-broke craftsmanship is a feast for the eyes. He and Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis convey our character’s loss of reality through a hypnotic blend of dynamic shots and edits. Matched with pitch-perfect framing (Shyamalan’s playfully pushes his PG-13 rating to the limit with some eerie scares), Shyamalan’s visceral craft sets an intoxicating spell for viewers to get lost in. The camera swoops around with technical aplomb while still purposefully enhancing the film’s potent conceits.
Old excels in horror’s crowdpleasing shock, but that isn’t Shyamalan’s only goal. His adaptation of Frederik Peeters’s inventive material digs at the heart of the character’s ever-slipping grasp on time. The first two acts are cleverly framed as a deranged descent into the characters – and the audiences – deepest fears, stuck moving in fast-forward with no control of their untimely fates. After masking us in horrors, Shyamalan skillfully pulls the curtain to reveal a surprisingly balanced sense of emotionality.
While we can not control the unavoidable, Shymalan understands the melancholic beauty rendered from the passage of time. Standout performances from Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps work brilliantly to sell these nuances. Both actors skillfully tap into Shymalan’s detached writing style, encompassing the overbearing existential dread before executing a few warmly tender moments. It all works to create a resounding third act, which bristles with thrilling frights and deeply humanistic sentiments that still stick with me today.
Like every M. Night film, critics have levied a familiar list of complaints. Some find his writing too rigid while others critique his desire to create sensational plot turns with every narrative. Can I call Old a technically perfect film? Probably not, but that didn’t stop me from being enamored with its lively balance between entertainment and emotive storytelling. In a summer movie season crowded with routine blockbusters, Old is the first film to conjure genuine imagination and excitement.
I love seeing Shyamalan still operate like a wide-eyed kid even after trials and tribulations in the industry. His joy and creativity behind the camera are simply infectious, and I hope Old serves as the beginning of a new era of brilliance for the auteur.