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Throughout his career, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has dealt in the terror of the unknown in various shapes and forms. Usually telling claustrophobic stories of fear, the director has broadened his scope to its widest extent with Old, an adaptation of the graphic novel Sandcastle by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Lévy. While the film does start off a little uneven, it flies fast and fierce once the plot kicks in, turning into a fun and frightening thrill ride.
Most of Old’s story follows the Capa family as their idyllic tropical vacation is not as tranquil as they hope. As Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) take their young boys children Maddox and Trent to a random resort Prisca found online, there’s already something hiding underneath the surface of their familial facade. So when an opportunity to travel to a private beach arises, the family jumps in excitedly, unaware that what follows is about to unravel as a nightmare of aging and paranoia.
Away from the familiar territory of Philadelphia, Old opens up M. Night Shyamalan’s visual scope to great effect.
Old is actually the first film that sees writer/director M. Night Shyamalan completely move away from his usual home base of Philadelphia. While the town still plays a role in the film’s narrative, the natural beauty of the Dominican Republic is where the movie actually gets to unfold, with said beautiful beach making up the central setting of the film’s action. Shyamalan uses the new, fresh territory to his advantage, and creates a wide open horror film with the story he’s adapting.
Beautiful and expansive as the beach is, through a combination of isolated locations, as well as camera movement and editing choices, there’s still a sense of claustrophobia in Old. Rather than limiting his tale to a closed off location, the simple isolation of the tropical beach is the truly confining feature, as a ticking clock helps enclose the group of travelers on the beach in a mystery that could end with their premature deaths.
Old truly thrills once it knows what it's doing, but it does take a little while to really shift into gear.
The weakest section of Old is the process of introducing audiences to the story's cast of characters. It’s absolutely essential to set up the Capa family dynamic, as they’re the centerpiece of the film’s cast. However, there’s some setups throughout the opening act of the film that feel less organic and more awkwardly built into the story that’s about to take off – such as young Trent running around with a friend asking people their names and occupations. But once Old does find its footing and begins putting its characters through a rapidly aging nightmare, M. Night Shyamalan’s story takes off at breakneck pace.
While it’s careful to try and lay out as many breadcrumbs as it can for the audience, Old’s pacing is fast enough to be exhilarating – but a little too fast to go anywhere deeper than it absolutely needs to. Strong performances from Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps, as well as Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie as the slightly older versions of their children, do go a long way towards smoothing the gaps in story. By the end of the wild ride a lot of things have happened, and it all adds up to a fun summer blockbuster with a wild finish. There’s also some pretty strong visual scares that push the boundary of the PG-13 rating, which should result in some elicited screams from theatrical audiences.
With another M. Night Shyamalan ending fans will be talking about, Old is absolute summer fun.
Without spoiling anything, Old is another M. Night Shyamalan movie that will have audiences talking about how it all wraps up. In the pantheon of Shyamalan twists, this film’s endgame actually ranks among the best of his big reveals. But what’s even more surprising is how the movie doesn’t spare the emotional toll of the ending while trying to land a huge jaw dropping finale. Though if you’ve read Sandcastle’s source material, it appears that M. Night Shyamalan’s interpretation is a more definitive answer than what was give in the text.
Old is solid summer fun, providing a lightning fast thriller for audiences that successfully mixes body horror with emotional family drama. A new experiment in wide open spaces featuring the same confined paranoia that M. Night Shyamalan has mastered, the film is both familiar and unique. From which well the film decides to draws at any time throughout is part of the excitement, as the quick nature of this latest mystery will keep everyone guessing in anticipation of the next scare.