Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Blinding Edge Pictures
Old is the latest cinematic curiosity from filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, adapted from Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeter’s graphic novel Sandcastle. His films tend to be divisive among audiences, but I have always enjoyed them for their atmosphere and exploration of unusual ideas. I find myself going to watch them even if they don’t always live up to their full potential. Watching one of his films is like dipping into an anthology of short stories. You never quite know what you’re going to find next.
Old is a tricky film to review because it dwells so heavily on such an abstract concept. Several guests find themselves trapped on a remote beach while on an idyllic resort holiday. The bigger dilemma is that here time flows at an extraordinarily rapid pace, and a lifetime can pass in the space of a day. While there is a loose narrative framing the film, you are introduced to the core idea early on and it scarcely deviates from its path. Rather it plays out to its natural conclusion and, as viewers, we are simply along for the M. Night Shyamalan ride.
The emphasis here is almost exclusively on the aging experience rather than character development. While we do get a glimpse into the life of one of the families, it is not truly at the forefront of Old. Instead it is a vessel into the bizarre paradisiacal nightmare-scape that Shyamalan has concocted for us. I do appreciate the commitment to the idea, and the film’s contained nature means that it never really shifts focus. This is the reality that the guests must face now, and that we as viewers must also come to terms with.
Macabre and bleak, Old is a disturbing experience. Horror forces us to confront our fears head on, often in an intimate setting, and personally I feel it is successful here. There is physical horror as well as psychological, as the guests are forced to face the aging process head on as their bodies degenerate and their minds fray. Thanks to the time pocket, wounds heal and broken bones reset instantly, but this isn’t always advantageous. There is no time to recover or recuperate, to adjust to rapid change. Everything is instant and it’s impossible to keep up with the relentless onslaught of time. It’s all too fast for them to keep up, and so it continues to escalate.
In horror, plans to escape rarely go well. As you can imagine that leads to some very unfortunate circumstances as the guests attempt to leave the beach and are forced to come to terms with their inescapable fates. It’s a terrible situation to be in, and Shyamalan makes us well aware of that.
A memorable, unique cinematic experience
Personally, I do think this is worth watching. For me it was a memorable, unique cinematic experience – experience being the key word here. If it sounds a little too odd for your tastes, perhaps wait until you can stream it. It’s certainly not a feel-good family film, although arguably its themes around family and the passage of time are grounding and encourage us to cherish the moments we have together while they last.
For people hoping for an easy entertaining horror film, this might feel a little too intelligent. But for fans of horror and science fiction it has my recommendation.
Words by Andy Porter