★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Caught in one of the weirdest conundrums around. A story that’s either a perfectly timed version of a Twightlight Zone episode, or a ten part series on Hulu, but is simultaneously and definitely unsuited for a feature length film. This is the world of M. Night Shyamalan’s 2021 joint, Old.
It’s a fascinating and cautionary tale of our uncertainty in the universe and the lengths we’ll go to in maintaining our grasp on youthful and dunder-headed exuberance. Problem is M. Night Shyamalan is caught between telling a pithy and tight 30 minute tale, or a much longer and much more involved Lost-like dissection of each character’s aging plight and who might really be pulling the strings of their mortality.
Sadly, we get a little of both, and neither work at the hour and 48 minute run time.
Old follows a series of four couples, two with children, and one with an elderly woman and a dog. They’ve all arrived at an exclusive tropical resort and they are all sold on the idea of a tour of an equally exclusive beach. The resort’s manager plays to their collective hubris by explaining the unique nature of the beach that very few have ever seen.
As soon as the cadre of opportunists arrive at the beach they encounter famed-ish rapper, Mid-Sized Sedan (…which might be the worst rap moniker ever). Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) and his girlfriend have been at the beach for an undisclosed amount of time and it’s entirely unclear if he even knows where he’s at. Mid-Sized Sedan’s very dead girlfriend is discovered by one of the couple’s children and that’s when things go from weird to exceptionally weird.
Turns out everyone, but especially the children, are aging at an incredibly fast pace. Is one among them the culprit for the premature aging? Is there a commonality among them? Have they met before? Are they parked on a radioactive dump? Is there a rip in the time-space continuum? Did someone poison the potato salad?
All these questions come out in an aggressive and confrontational fashion. The group isn’t so much posing these questions to each other as much as they are accusing each other of heinous crimes ensconced in racism, classism, and general hatred for that which they are unaccustomed.
The acting, the location (Playa El Valle, Samana, Dominican Republic), and the cinematography are all top shelf. The actors create a painful depiction of human nature’s worst tribalistic instincts. This tension, not unlike the accusatory confrontation seen in the great 12 Angry Men, is little about actual hatred for each other, but a function of their perceived and coded dislike.
Old really is a well constructed film with a stellar story idea. The story, first told in the context of the graphic novel, the Sandcastle, is one that deserved to be put to film. Unfortunately, the treatment it’s given here seems incomplete with the audience invariably wanting more. The third act devolves in to a rushed exposition dump that could have easily been a stand alone film, or even, again, the later half of an ongoing series.
Old’s story is a really compelling one, but left to this condensed run time doesn’t allow for the complexity of these sub plots to be fully explored. M. Night Shyamalan is an exceptional director, but too often his film’s paint themselves in to a corner with no escape and their resolutions seem out of place and hurried.
Old is rated PG-13 and available for streaming everywhere.