Warning: Slight spoilers for Old are in play. If you haven’t seen the film yet, leave the beach and come back once you’ve caught up.
In the world of horror, a PG-13 rating is almost always seen as a kiss of death. But every now and then, a movie like M. Night Shyamalan’s Old gets to defy that expectation and skirt the edge that stands between an R-rating and a more accessible designation. In this case, there was one particularly disturbing scene that saw the writer/director tweaking the end result in order to maintain the PG-13 rating.
During our conversation on the press day for Old, I spoke with M. Night Shyamalan about how this film in particular seems to be knocking on the door of a harder PG-13. With a little bit of nudity and some moments of body horror present in his summer thrill ride, there was bound to be something that had to be trimmed or toned down in order to keep things in the neighborhood of that blockbuster-friendly rating. As it turned out, there were some aspects that Shyamalan admitted were in need of some tweaking:
It’s funny you ask that, I’m always on the edge of R and PG-13, and there’s always a dance about how to get there. To get there, there was a slight trimming of one of the scenes, and reducing the sound effects on some of the more graphic moments that happened with knives and things like that.
"Graphic moments that happened with knives and things like that," in all honesty, sounds like a rating descriptor I can get behind. It’s always amazing how something as simple as sound effects can be altered in the name of securing a PG-13 rating. Old is certainly no exception, as the ravages of time find all sorts of new and exciting ways to be exhibited throughout M. Night Shyamalan’s film. Not to mention that there’s various acts of bodily harm that, when presented the right way, can seem even more gruesome when you hear them a certain way.
While the scene we’re about to discuss is in the trailers for Old, there’s going to be some more details revealed as to what the scenario entails. So if you’re spoiler adverse, consider this another warning. The Old scene in question that needed to be tweaked involves the character of Rufus Sewell’s Charles, a man whom we see ravaged by something in the trailers for the film. If you’re curious, take a look at the trailer for the film below and skip to 02:25 - 02:28 to see what we’re talking about:
What you’re seeing above is actually a pretty horrific way to die, and that’s on top of the fact that Old basically accelerates the life span of everyone on its beach. With that acceleration comes an interesting, albeit dangerous, wrinkle: wounds and broken limbs heal even faster than normal, but untreated infections can ravage someone just as quickly. So if you’re a dangerous madman who’s slashing at his fellow beachgoers like Charles, a cut with a rusty knife is a very quick and very painful death sentence.
From the moment Vicky Krieps’ Prisca cuts Charles with what’s basically Chekhov's Cutlery in Old, you can tell exactly what’s going to happen. And if it wasn’t for the want of a PG-13 rating, Rufus Sewell’s demise could have been seen in even more horrific detail. As for what had to happen when tweaking this Old moment, and why, M. Night Shyamalan admitted that even he found the unedited moment a bit much:
Just a slight bit of deemphasizing it, because it was so visceral it was, you know, you’d jump out of your skin. It was so hard to watch.
For a PG-13-rated movie, Old actually has two really good sequences that use body horror to freak out the audience. Charles’ rusty death is only one of them, and there’s another that’s so good, it has to be saved for the film itself. But even on the strength of that particular scene alone, the horror in the finished product is still as sharp as anything frightening in a bloodier affair; and part of that is also because Old flies quite quickly in its campaign of terror.
The mysteries of Old can finally be revealed, as the film is now in theaters. But if you’re worried you’ve been spoiled to the entirety of the movie’s deadly charms, there’s plenty left for you to still discover. And should you have already seen it all for yourself, then the 2021 release schedule will be on hand to whisk you away to your next destination, whether it be in the scaring or non-scaring section of the theater.