Some directors have those cities that you automatically associate them with, no matter the project. Martin Scorsese has New York, Ben Affleck is a Boston guy and writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is definitely a Philadelphia auteur. Nearly all of his films have either been located in, or adjacent to, the city of his heart, which makes his latest project, Old, a bit of an outlier. Filming in the Dominican Republic, Shyamalan was offered an opportunity to make a film that was different in more ways than one.
Though Old is a cinematic adaptation of Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Lévy’s original graphic novel Sandcastle, the story is told in a way that is very much in the tradition of M. Night Shyamalan’s previous works. The big difference was, of course, substituting a wide open and mostly daylit beach instead of the cityscape and interior that Philadelphia has offered in the past. As we sat down to discuss Old during the recent day of interviews pertaining to the film, Mr. Shyamalan laid out just why this change of venue was both very different, as well as oddly fitting:
This was an opportunity for me to do the kind of cinema that I don’t get a lot of opportunities to do. Normally I’m inside living rooms and bedrooms and hallways; this was on this beautiful beach, and I could do different kinds of claustrophobia, and use different tools. It was an opportunity to have a slightly different language that I’m used to, and I was excited for that opportunity.
Without going too deeply into the story of Old, there’s definitely a sense of claustrophobia on that beautiful sand. As the characters of the film try to puzzle out what’s going on, two things become very clear: they can’t stray too far off the beach and they’re getting older as the clock ticks down. A singular setting helps ratchet up the tension, boxing in our protagonists as if they were in an episode of Servant the whole time.
Put all of those factors together and what do you get? A movie that glides on a rail, as if it were built for speed. Old progresses in a way that unfolds the puzzle that M. Night Shyamalan has laid out in front of his fans, while at the same time doing so at a speedy clip that jumpstarts the storytelling. Describing how and why Old moves like a thriller with the engine of a race car, Shyamalan’s motivation was to trap the audience as much as he’d trapped his characters:
...it needed to be relentlessly fast. That these things that were happening to them, one after the other, you should feel what the characters are feeling. I can’t catch my breath to catch up and internalize what just happened, because the next thing is happening, if time moved that fast for you.
A new approach to the M. Night Shyamalan mystery maze may have been the ticket for Old, as the movie has seen itself debut in a pretty powerful position, even in a pandemic-fueled world. Who would have thought that a movie about people trapped in a world where time moves differently would have been such a draw? Though Old takes place in a setting that looks like a wide-open paradise, there’s still plenty of ways for Mr. Shyamalan to execute the scares that the world has come to expect from his stories. You can catch Old at a theater near you, or if you’ve already seen the film, feel free to check out our 2021 release schedule and see what your next destination of thrilling mystery may be.