Cinema Dispatch: Old

Old and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

M Night Shyamalan is far from my favorite filmmaker, but I’m always interested to see whatever it is he’s made whenever his name flashes by on a trailer with this film being no exception!  The conceit seemed decent enough in a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits sort of way which is definitely in his wheelhouse, but there was A LOT going on here that made this look both laughable and disturbing.  I guess that’s why we all keep giving him more and more chances as no matter how bad he burns us with movies like The Happening, Last Airbender, and After Earth, there’s always something to his thrillers that makes them unique among everything else that makes it to theaters.  Does he manage to knock it out of the park once again with this ghastly tale of time gone haywire, or will this tank so bad that he’ll have to make another low budget found footage movie as penance?  Let’s find out!!

A family of four with parents Guy and Prisca (Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps) as well as the young kids Trent and Maddox (Emun Elliott and Embeth Davidtz) are vacationing at a resort THAT THEY JUST SO HAPPENED TO FIND ON THE INTERNET where they cater to your every need in the most beautiful tropical paradise you’ve ever seen!  Not only that, they have a secret beach that is PERFECT for spending a day at, so the four of them head out there along with another family of four (Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Kathleen Chalfant, and Kyle Bailey) as well as a nice couple (Ken Leung and Nikki Amuka-Bird) to enjoy the day swimming relaxing!  Things go sideways fairly soon however as Trent finds a dead body which some mysterious guy who was already there (Aaron Pierre) seems to recognize, and not long after that the oldest among them start to get sick.  They try to leave but something is causing them to black out as soon as they try to step through the cavern that led them here, and to make matters worse the three kids all start to age rapidly.  Trent and Maddox (now played by Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie) and reaching adulthood within hours and everyone who has a medical condition is getting worse and worse as the seemingly fast passage of time is leaving their conditions untreated to rampage through their bodies.  With only hours to go before the adults grow old enough to die from age alone, can they find a way to escape this beach before losing all the time they have left?  What possible reason could there be for the beach being this way, and why were they put there in the first place?  If they get out of this alive, do the kids get like twenty birthday presents in a day?

“I want a car.”     “CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS LATER!?”

Whatever you can say about M Night, from his bad movies to his to his REALLY bad movies and even to his insensitive portrayals of mental illness, there’s no one who makes movies like him and he proves it once again with his latest outing.  It’s a complete hodgepodge of both his best and worst attributes that makes it worthy of laugh out loud mockery one minute before shattering your mind with existential horror the next.  It’s somewhat of a perfect bridge between his pre-Last Airbender films that were getting SEVERALLY out of hand and his later works which have been more cautious but also less disastrous.  The gonzo spirit that made The Happening such a big meme of a movie is present throughout this, but it also genuinely finds a way to be about real human fears and emotions that makes it unnerving and gripping instead of just one big joke.  I don’t think anything will top Marky Mark trying to convince a house plant not to kill him as far as pure comedic gold, but this somehow manages to get CLOSE to that while ALSO being a good movie; perhaps making this the greatest Shyamalan twist of them all!

“Oh, so THIS is where he’s been hiding those Sixth Sense sequels!”     “Wait, so it’s a crossover with Lady in the Water!?”

When this movie started, I thought I was in for a total mess as nothing about it seemed the least bit organic or believable; hallmarks of Shyamalan’s style to be sure, but it was cranked up to eleven with characters seemingly talking past one another delivering dialogue that no one could possibly say with a straight face.  It’s an issue persistent throughout the movie as the dialogue rears its ugly head even when it starts to get really tense and the intrigue beings to mount.  We’ve got dead bodies washing up on shore, but also there’s a rapper named MID SIZED SEDAN just staring off in space in the background.  You’ve got a scene where someone is trying to explain the biological changes they are going through and the various effects it will have on them, and then someone does a BLACK DOESN’T CRACK jab which cuts the tension like a wet fart.  M Night’s instincts towards this kind of awkward unhuman representation of people and emotions had me cracking up at very inappropriate times which honestly might have been the intent in trying to give some breathing room and release to an otherwise very tension filled movie.  It also somewhat lulls you into a false sense of security early on as the obviousness of EVERYTHING that it’s doing as well as the clunky dialogue don’t really prepare you for what’s going to happen next; feeling above all of this half-baked nonsense only for its unsettling tone to creep in while your guard is down.  Still, it’s not the kind of thing that’ll turn you around on the guy if you’ve never liked this particular quirk in his filmmaking and for all I can defend it for its disarming qualities; it’ll still pull you out of the movie at very inopportune times.

“She died hours ago, and yet the body is COMPLETELY decomposed!” “Wow, and I thought WE were boned.” … “Really?”

While much of this movie feels like a throwback to the goofy entries in M Night’s filmography, he still somehow managed to make what is perhaps the most genuinely terrifying and bleak movie to hold a PG-13 which is an impressive feat all on its own, and it does so more with the implications of its conceit than the gruesomeness on screen.  I can’t speak for everyone else, but time, aging, and death, are ALL things that terrify me and this movie plays on those fears like few others have.  The cruel and unyielding pace at which time marches ever onward is bad enough as it is, but to watch it accelerated like this and everyone reacting to it is not just scary but deeply depressing.  It’s like trying to hold onto as much of a liquid as you can knowing that your desperate flailing to hold it all will never be enough to keep it from slipping past your fingers, and whatever “solution” there is to this won’t give them back what they lost.  Time, experience, LIFE, all being sapped away while you can do nothing bare stare gormlessly at your own inevitable demise; and that’s before all the other stuff that comes with it which is perhaps where the movie skates a line that some aren’t going to appreciate.  On top of being about mortality, the movie is also about people’s bodies turning against them as sickness and deterioration are affecting everyone on the beach as well.  Now is this to some extent ablest as these are real illness and conditions that people suffer being used to elicit moments of tensions and dread?  Well M Night’s track record with movies like The Visit and Split (both movies I do admit I enjoyed) doesn’t give him much benefit of the doubt, but for whatever my opinion is worth I think it at least serves a purpose and is not just there for its own sake; especially once the full scope of the movie is revealed.  It’s not trying to say people with these issues are bad or broken or anything like that anymore than our own mortality and fragility could somehow make us less than human.  It’s something that we all have to contend with as growing up and growing old means things about our bodies will inevitably change and we should all have the resources to deal with those in healthy ways, but it’s also such a universal experience that I think there is value in finding ways to explore the sense of fear and dread that can come with it; especially within this context of everything happening much faster than you can possibly prepare for. 

“Darn you Flintstones Vitamins! WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I NEEDED YOU!?”

The one exception I concede though is the character with a mental illness which is clearly not being treated over SEVERAL years due to the conceit of the movie, but still to have them act the way they do is not helpful to anyone.  Aside from that, there’s not much I can complain about this movie that isn’t also somewhat of a tacit endorsement like the cringe worthy dialogue and M Night’s sillier flourishes, but I do think at least one more thing needs to be acknowledged as it was almost too much for me to bear.  There’s a subplot involving a pregnancy that is so distressing in not just its execution but the implications surrounding it that I wanted to crawl up into a ball and disappear which is the kind of distress that usually tips the scales for me from engaging to utterly repellent (looking at you, Hereditary), but thankfully nothing else got THAT unpleasant for me.  The ending also may not be for everyone.  I wouldn’t exactly call it a Deus Ex Machina, but the final clue to solving the mystery just kinda comes out of nowhere and while I enjoyed the catharsis of what happened at the end it IS a bit on the storybook side of things for a movie that was otherwise so unflinching in is despair.  For me though, it’s important that you drag someone back out from the depths if you’re going to take them down there in the first place and for that reason I still found the ending to be satisfying.

“See, this is why I should have brought my utility belt.  Batman never gets into this kind of mess.”     “Your utility belt was made of cardboard and full of Jolly Ranchers.”     “I WAS SIX AT THE TIME!”

I haven’t read the graphic novel that this is based on so I couldn’t tell you which ideas to credit M Night with and which are lifted right out of the book, but it is something I hope to be able to answer soon as reading the darn thing is now a top priority for me.  I want to consider this its own singular work however, at least as far as this review, and for what it manages to accomplish even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark in certain spots, I think it’s an easy recommendation from me and perhaps one of Shyamalan’s best.  It’s not as polished as his first two films and I’d have to watch Split again to see if it holds up, but for the tropes and style that we often associate with Shyamalan, I think it might be the best to encompass all of that while also being genuinely affecting and downright chilling.  I’d caution anyone who’s easily disturbed to perhaps wait for the home release before seeing this as it is a HARD PG-13 and having a pause button nearby would be super handy, but for anyone looking for a good thriller it’s certainly worth going to the theaters to see.  Seriously though, after something THIS dark I think he could use a break.  I hear they’re making a Last Airbender show over at Netflix, how about he takes another crack at that?

4 out of 5

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