By: Trevor Chartrand
After experimenting with his very own superhero films, M. Night Shyamalan returns to classic form with his latest directorial effort, Old.
Shyamalan is notorious for high-concept ideas that are intriguing enough, but often fall victim to poor execution – Old is no exception. This film was clearly written with an endgame in mind, and viewers will find themselves impatiently waiting for the ending, for everything they’ve seen so far to make sense. To get to the film’s final moments though, viewers must first suffer through a never-ending series of plot contrivances driven by nonsensical character choices and awful dialogue.
Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle, Old is ultimately a vacation-gone-wrong story. While visiting an all-inclusive tropical resort, three families find themselves stranded on an unusual beach that ages them rapidly. Their children become teens, and then adults, seemingly in the blink of an eye. As they suffer the effects and consequences of aging, together they try to piece together a way to escape from the beach, as well as to discover the truth about the sinister parties who have trapped them there.
Shyamalan’s intentions with this thriller are clear, but he fails to communicate suspense in a meaningful way. The ultimate failure of this film is its lack of effective, or even convincing characters. As the film is written and performed, the characters are essentially used as a tool to pad the running time, rather than an opportunity to develop interesting people. They’re all tired clichés; the family on the brink of divorce, the ditzy blonde, the rapper with chronic nosebleeds known as ‘Mid-Sized Sedan’ (okay, maybe not that last one).
On top of featuring weak characters, the cast struggles throughout Old to convincingly portray any of these people in a realistic way. I suspect the performance problems in this film are more due to poor direction and bad dialogue than the actors’ ability. For example, in a moment of vulnerability, one character confesses his biggest secrets, with a self-awareness few are realistically capable of or willing to share with others. After expressing regret after regret, he ultimately confesses to living life as a coward. For a character to realize something like this about themselves could be a pretty compelling thing, but in this instance the “show, don’t tell” guideline is completely ignored, and instead we get a heavy-handed scene with clunky, on-the-nose dialogue.
Credit does go to the casting department for effectively selecting groups of actors to portray the younger characters at three different points in their lives – the performers selected all share an uncanny resemblance while playing an older version of the rapidly aging-children. The performances themselves are a whole other story, but they sure do look the part.
Most commendable from this film is its interesting, even bold, use of the camera. The film looks incredible, often utilizing unique and unusual character placements and framing choices to draw the eye in unexpected ways. Old also features a great deal of camera fluidity and movement during some of the more intense scenes, including circling pans coordinated to characters’ discussions.
Overall, I would say Shyamalan’s intentions are pure with Old, and the effort will not go unnoticed. The themes and ideas Shyamalan attempts to convey here are muddled and unclear. With some fine-tuning, I suspect the film could have some profound things to say about the physical and emotional struggles that come with age. There’s certainly entertainment value to a film like Old, but it lacks the strong human connection needed to make a memorable, meaningful film.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor