When a fractured family check into a luxury health retreat they end up with less time on their hands than they might reasonably have expected, in M. Night Shyamalan’s horror thriller Old.
Married couple Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are on the verge of breaking-up. A short vacay in a remote, but surprisingly affordable, luxury resort along with six year old Trent (Nolan River) and 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton), could be just what their rocky marriage needs.
They’re even welcomed to the resort with a curiously bespoke cocktail, which can’t be bad, right?
But before said family can fully relax, they get an invitation to spend the day on a secluded private beach, with an oddball selection of other lucky guests. Suffice to say they should have stayed by the pool.
The beach is barely accessible, surrounded by ominous cliffs. Waves crash in perpetual agitation.
Little Trent starts to complain that his bathing shorts are too tight, Maddox suddenly needs to borrow her mom’s bikini. A young wife (Abbey Lee) with a calcium deficiency rapidly becomes visibly skeletal, while her schizophrenic doctor husband (Rufus Sewell) quickly loses his grip on reality. The least weird thing that happens is the nude body which washes up on the shore.
It transpires that time is accelerated. Every half-hour by the sea is equivalent to a year in the real world. Leaving this creepy cove proves impossible, because some mysterious hoodoo seems determined to keep them on the sand.
The least weird thing that happens is when a nude body washes up on the shore…
To delve deeper into M. Night Shyamalan’s Old, an adaptation of the French graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Lévy, would spoil the fun. We’re back in Twilight Zone territory. Old unspools like an extended episode of that classic TV show, to the point where you lament the lack of a sardonic Rod Serling voice-over.
Shot in the Dominon Republic, Old looks curiously stylish. Presumably to heighten tension, or avoid costly VFX, Shyamalan often frames his cast obliquely. The lens of cinematographer Mike Gioulakis constantly pirouettes, which means at a cinematic 24fps there’s a lot of motion blur. I can’t help feeling that the show would benefit from a high frame rate presentation.
But there’s some cool sound design to match his tidal swirl. If the idea is to disorientate, it definitely works.
Gioulakis previously shot Shyamalan‘s Split and Glass, and worked with the director on the AppleTV+ streaming series Servant. He also collaborated with Jordan Peele on Us. He knows how to keep things off-kilter.
Old is daft fun, sometimes shocking and often grotesque. Just when you think it couldn’t get any more outrageous – it does! What first looks like a Hitchcockian cameo for the director turns out to be a much more pivotal role, he literally drives the plot forward.
But the central conceit is the real star of the show, and Shyamalan stitches his gag together with crafty glee.
Old is well worth making time for.
Old is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and stars Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps. Rated 15, 108 mins.
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