There’s a simple but fantastically evocative concept at the heart of M. Night Shyamalan’s new horror-thriller, which is based on the graphic novel ‘Sandcastle’ by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters: the main antagonist is time.
Picture yourself going on holiday and ending up on a beach which causes you and your loved ones to age years in the space of hours. Quite literally: life’s a beach and then you die. It’s a potentially horrific and existentially-challenging thrill ride, the Twilight Zone episode we didn’t realise we needed. And yet, the wildly inconsistent Shyamalan can’t help but trip himself up over and over again, and, like his characters, Old gets old real fast.
It’s frustrating to think how brilliant this film could have been in the hands of Jordan Peele, who even helmed the two-season revival of The Twilight Zone on CBS. There’s little doubt that the director of Get Out and Us would have sorted out Old’s insurmountable irritant: its laughably poor screenplay. The dialogue in particular is so howlingly hamfisted and exposition-heavy that it never allows you to fully invest in the characters or the peril they’re in. As exceptionally well cast as everyone is – even if Vicky Krieps and Gael García Bernal feel completely overqualified considering the stilted lines they’ve been saddled with – no one talks like humans.
Worse, Shyamalan never trusts the audience’s intelligence enough to figure out the mystery for themselves; he prefers to do away with any ambiguity or subtext and spell everything out, revealing in the process that he is incapable of mining the material for all its potential golden layers.
As for the trademark Shyamalan final act twist, it briefly makes you think that all this silliness could be just a little bit brilliant. Sure, up until that point, Old failed as both a dread-soaked chiller and an allegorically-potent noodle-baker about people’s inability to live in the moment, but credit where credit’s due: the rug-pull isn’t half bad. However, with too little substance on show and the director not knowing when to cut to black, it’s plain to see that we’ve ended up a long way away from Unbreakable and far too close to The Happening with this one. Make no mistake: the awful handling of the brilliant material means that only thing you’ll achieve by going to see Old is age. By 108 minutes, to be precise. And it’s time you’ll want to get back.
Old / Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (US, 2021), with Vicky Krieps, Gael García Bernal, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung, Alex Wolff, Eliza Scanlen. Starts July 29.