Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff
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… refreshingly unique.
A group of travellers looking to get away from it all take a day trip to a secluded beach, but their dream escape quickly becomes the stuff of nightmares as they find themselves trapped and aging rapidly with no explanation as to why.
M. Night Shyamalan is a master at tapping into our most basic fears and twisting them into something darker, be it the aftereffects of family tragedy, loss of faith, or with this latest offering, the terrifying and relentless ordeal of growing old.
Old is the long-awaited reminder of Shyamalan’s ability to deeply unsettle audiences while simultaneously delivering heartfelt family drama. Centred around Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) as the holidaying couple just looking to spend quality time with their two children, the film explores the combined sense of dread and grief that comes from being faced with not only your own mortality, but the mortality of those you love.
It does suffer a bit for its slow set up — dialogue has never been Shyamalan’s strongest asset. Repeated refrains on the topic of age, growing up, and the importance of being “in the moment” overwhelm us in the first ten minutes alone — however, once the necessary framework is complete, the pacing picks up with a vengeance.
As a director, Shyamalan is consistently aware of both the camera and his audience. The use of blocking and indirect angles during certain key moments serves to ratchet up the tension, forcing audiences to use their imagination based off a character’s reaction shots paired with tantalising glimpses of terrors lurking just out of frame.
Arguably, the most upsetting horror of the film is the uncomfortable sexualisation of the aged-up children. While the subplot is true to Pierre Oscar Lévy’s Sandcastle, the original graphic novel and source of inspiration for the film, it remains disturbing and difficult to watch. The same could be said of yet another secondary plot that leans heavily on the age-old horror cliché of mental illness as something violent, dangerous and to be feared. This is hardly a first for Shyamalan: the director has been called out for misrepresenting mental illness in previous films (Split, Glass).
Uncomfortable as certain aspects may be, the film itself is refreshingly unique. The cast work well together, the energy crackling between them as the story gains momentum. Trevor Gureckis’ score is compelling and at times exquisitely unnerving, and while it’s tough to step into an M. Night Shyamalan film and not immediately start trying to guess the inevitable twist, in this case it’s far better to take the film’s own advice: stop looking ahead and just be in the moment while it lasts.