Released: 22nd July
Seen: 2nd December
The career of M. Night Shyamalan is certainly an interesting one, to say the least. He started with absolute bonafide smash hit The Sixth Sense and then onto critical acclaim with Unbreakable and Signs. He was heralded as a visionary, someone who would have a career worthy of envy… and then he had a decade straight of critical bombs. He’s never really made an actual financial bomb (except maybe Lady in the Water) but his name went from being a sign of potential to a red flag that you’re about to be greatly disappointed. Even when he had a mild comeback with The Visit and Split, people thought he would return to his form… and now after Glass and the film we’re talking about today, Old, I have to wonder if M. Night Shyamalan was ever actually the visionary that people claimed him to be or if he’s just a bad writer/director who got lucky with his early films.
Old, an adaptation of the graphic novel Sandcastles, takes place on a secluded beach that’s surrounded by cliffs. On this beach are about a dozen people of various ages who all have some kind of medical issue (Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, hemophilia, etc). The day seems to be going well until a dead body washes up on the beach. Naturally, the people on the beach freak out and try to get help but soon realise that there is no way out. Even trying to go along the path they took to get onto the beach itself keeps causing them to pass out. They have one more problem though, namely they start noticing that they’re aging at a rapid rate and if they don’t figure out how to get off the beach soon, they’re going to die of old age within 24 hours.
As a concept, Old is downright terrifying. The idea of aging so fast that you’re dead in a day is a brilliant concept, one that really allows for a lot of great scenes where the horrors of aging have to be faced head on. There’s the strange claustrophobia of being trapped on a beach, possibly THE place everyone thinks of when they think of a nice open area where they can relax and turning that into a closed off place where you are put through the most stressful situation imaginable is genuinely brilliant. Hell, I even like the idea that everyone has an illness that would normally take years to do serious damage but in this film, it takes 3 hours. It’s a terrifying concept… which is probably why the graphic novel won all the awards it got. This adaptation is actual garbage.
The problem here is simple, M. Night is not a good writer nor is he a capable director. It’s just not a good script, loaded with dialogue that somehow goes beyond expository. It’s like the actors are reading the stage directions at times, it’s so blunt that they may as well turn to camera and go “Did you catch that? Cos you idiots might not have caught this important part of my backstory”. The film doesn’t trust you to follow what it’s doing so it will bluntly explain it in the most dull lifeless dialogue I’ve ever heard, which had to be hell on the actors who actually try to make it sound natural but it’s kind of hard to sound natural when you randomly blurt out your character’s name, age and social security number before following it with “I just wanted somebody to know that” to the person who just happens to be nearby.
Oh speaking of characters, you might notice I haven’t named any of them yet… that’s because they’re so forgettable that their names don’t matter. The only character name that stuck in my head for any length of time is the name of the rapper character and that’s because the rap name that M. Night Shyamalan gave this character is “Mid-Sized Sedan” and that is a name so gloriously stupid that it’s impossible to forget no matter how much you want to.
But don’t worry, Old doesn’t just think you’re idiots… it thinks you’re goldfish with the memory span of 3 seconds because characters will do stupid shit like ask questions they know the answer to (as in “Hey, can anyone swim?” followed by a half hour break before the same character who asked that question reveals they were part of a swim team and therefore can swim!). It expects you to somehow forget that a character died of a seizure when another character proclaims their epilepsy was cured.
Old also expects you to just believe absolutely anything, including that you can remove a tumor on the beach with a tiny incision and your bare hands in under a minute or that a 6 year olds clothing will somehow fit on a 23 year olds body. It does this because this film seems to think that just because you will buy “The beach makes people age faster” that you will believe anything, a willing suspension of disbelief and all that nonsense… the problem is that most people’s willing suspension only goes so far. I can buy the beach making you older, I’m not going to buy beachside surgery done with bare hands (especially in a film that will later use surgical infection as a plot point for a different character!). The film thinks you’re stupid, forgetful and will believe anything… kind of mean, isn’t it?
The worst part is that Old has potential, there are solid ideas here. There are even some interesting visual choices, like hiding the kids’ faces as they age up so it’s a shock to see how much they’ve grown or to have the camera blur and hide some of the more graphic elements and leave it up to the imagination but it goes too far, doing these strange stylistic shots again and again because it has nothing else interesting to offer. We have no interesting dialogue, but maybe if the camera spins around like a top we can give the illusion that this is interesting. Sorry, the illusion isn’t working. None of this is working and it really should because it has all the elements to make something interesting, but the man in charge doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.
Old grows old on you incredibly fast and probably should have a solid half hour chopped out. You can see the elements that could make for something interesting, the potential for greatness is right there just waiting to come out and play but it can’t because the man behind the camera can’t make it work. It’s badly paced, blandly written and directed like someone wanting to try out a bunch of tricks but not knowing what to do with them. On the whole, it’s nowhere near as fun or scary as it should be