Of all the contemporary directors, M. Night Shyamalan has to be one of the most criticised. He’s credits have been a melting pot of hits and misses throughout his career that it’s hard to determine which one you’ll get with every feature that he helms. His highs and lows have been well documented, but there is always something that keeps drawing audiences to his movies, keen to get a taste of that little bit of magic when he strikes gold.
So, where does that leave Shyamalan’s latest venture?
If anything, it typefies a conglomeration of his canon of work, with a striking premise that tackles the eternal fear, ‘What happens when we grow old?’ And when the ebb of time shifts into fifth gear with any hope of slowing it down completely wrenched away.
When a family takes a holiday to an island retreat, that on the surface appears idyllic, but lurking beneath is something strange and sinister. In fact, that’s the overarching message that Shymalayan appears to be the tune that he is playing, as all the characters have something hidden, awaiting to unfold throughout its narrative, be it physical or mental.
As expected with Shyamalan’s works, the sting in the tail comes with its own set of curiosities when said family spend a few hours on a secluded beach, only to discover something is causing them to age at rapid rate and with no sense of how they can escape.
Another common theme at play here is the notion that there are powers that are behind the scenes with an ulterior motive, orchestrating the strange events that the family is subjected to. This in itself may go against the director’s favour, who clearly has a deep interest in this subject, but some may consider this old territory and therefore not willing to go there with the storyteller.
Shyamalan also casts himself in the mix as a voyeur and one of the afore-mentioned people who are pulling the strings. This could easily become trite and fall into The Lady In The Water territory, but he manages to curb himself from plunging too deep into these depths.
What is on display are some nicely etched out characters ably performed by a brilliant cast of actors, from the patriarchal Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal), and the matriarchal Prisca (Vicky Crieps). There is also an array of actors who portray the children as they age through the years, skipping through pre-adolescence, adolescence, and into adulthood, of which Thomasin Mackenzie and Alex Wolff hold the lion’s share of the screen time.
Nods should also go to Rufus Sewell who plays the unhinged threat on the shores, and ably dances with a narcissistic personality. And also Nikki Amuka-Bird, who gets her time to shine as a spiritual woman, who also struggles with epilepsy.
It is possibly due to these performances that hide the sometimes dodgy dialogue being delivered, but there are also some choice visual techniques that are at hand which deliberately shift the audience’s gaze into uncomfortable terrain. This choice is a bold one, and I personally felt it added weight to the story, but some may find this off putting.
And when the final reveal comes together, the naysayers will continue to hold their ground refusing to sway from their opinion.
There are those that will feel disappointed in the choices that Shyamalan makes here, and to a degree he falls easily into old territory which falls all too familiar.
The subject of choice though is one that brings the fear out of all of us, growing old and losing our wits, our beauty, and our senses.
Shyamalan may divide audiences, but I feel that he continues to be bold in the decisions he makes, never shying away from the heart of his material and without doubt, pushing them into an imaginative and creative world.
In doing so, he will continue to hit or miss.
With Old he somehow falls somewhere in between the two, as if stranding his ideas on the very beach that makes up the setting of this film.
The question is can he continue to find new ways to weave his craft, testing his measure, and keep the intrigue of those that follow him.
- Saul Muerte
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