Writing a review for a movie like M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film Old is incredibly tough because giving away any plot detail of the film beyond the basic description could ruin the whole movie. For a movie like Old, you want to know as little as possible going in. All I knew was what I saw in the trailers: a small group of people are on a beach that ages them at a rapid pace. That’s all I knew and that’s all you will need to know to enjoy what I consider to be one of the best movies of 2021.
Shyamalan kicks the film off by laying all the essential bread crumbs that we need to get the movie-going. We open by meeting Guy (Gael García Bernal), Prisca (Vicky Krieps), Maddox Alexa Swinton) and Trent (Nolan River), a seemingly normal family on their way to a luxurious resort. During their stay, they encounter Charles (Rufus Sewell), a doctor who is at the resort with his much-younger wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their daughter Kara (Mikaya Fisher), and Charles’ mother (Kathleen Chalfant). Both families head to a private beach that was recommended to them by the resort manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) and they are joined by another couple, Jarin (Ken Leung) Patricia (Nikki Asuka-Bird), and a rapper who goes by the name of Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), who was already on the island when everyone showed up. The fun time at the beach gets disrupted when a body washes up on shore and the kids begin to grow out of their bathing suits. With no answers as to why any of this is happening, everyone on the island is sent into a chaotic panic as everyone tries to figure out why they are aging at such a rapid pace and how to get off the island.
Old starts a bit slow but it’s all necessary table setting. We get to briefly know these characters and their personalities before they enter the mysterious island. We learn that Guy and Prisca are having marital issues, we see the smugness of Charles, and we learn that Patricia has epileptic seizures. There are other things we learn, but that would spoil some major moments in the movie.
Once on the beach, the film picks up at a rapid pace and doesn’t stop until the credits roll. Shyamalan utilizes smart editing and interesting cinematography to put us inside these characters’ minds. One moment, we have somebody lying dead on the beach, the next moment one of the children has aged another few years, the next minute another character has wrinkles on their face or has gone deaf. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis is back behind the camera once again for Shyamalan, following Split and Glass, and his work in Old is top-notch once again. There are scenes where the camera goes on a dizzying long-take or scenes where our character’s faces are in extreme close-up and it all serves a purpose. Shyamalan wants to make us feel uncomfortable and give us a sense of anxiety of what the characters are feeling.
Old was adapted from the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederick Peeters, the first film of Shyamalan’s to be based on a book. Though his first literary adaptation, Old still feels very much like a Shyamalan movie in every way. One of the great things Shyamalan did in Old, a movie in which our characters are dying seemingly every scene, was to allow the violence to get progressively bloodier and gorier as the movie went on. At the beginning of the movie, we only hear that someone has died or see a flash of their dead remains. But as the movie goes on, the scenes of violence get more and more graphic, as if our characters go from denial that they won’t be getting off this horrid island to accepting that this is their destiny and this is what they are dealing with. It’s brilliant show-don’t-tell filmmaking.
But through all of the violence and intensity, Old is also a heartbreaking look at how life can flash right before your eyes, and then you’re gone. It’s a movie that looks at themes Shyamalan has tackled before, like family, troubled marriage, and losing loved ones. It makes you think about the ones you love during the time you have and wants you to appreciate your relationship with them because they might be gone sooner than you think.
In typical Shyamalan fashion, the ending of the film could either make or break the film. I thought it was an interesting approach and it didn’t ruin the movie for me at all. I actually thought that the film’s final moments were a brilliant counter to his ending of The Village, an ending that made people furious upon its release back in 2004. The endings aren’t the same, but they’re interesting to think about in the context of their films and the seventeen years between two movies.
Old solidifies Shyamalan is still as interesting and talented a filmmaker as there is in Hollywood. It is a tense and gripping thriller that features a terrific ensemble and top-notch filmmaking. I would put Old as one of Shyamalan’s best movies and as one of the best movies I have seen in 2021.
Did you see Old? What did you think? What is your favorite M. Night Shyamalan movie? Comment below or let me know on Twitter @kevflix.