There are smart, clever M. Night Shyamalan movies (The Sixth Sense, Signs), then there are dumb M. Night Shyamalan (The Happening… what is happening???). Old, admittedly, has a great trailer. I was optimistic. Tightly edited, it looks like a compact horror story taking place over 24 hours in a slice of paradise. “There’s something wrong with this beach!” Indeed!
But barely a few minutes into Old and you start to get that nervous feeling that things aren’t going well… and I’m not talking about for the characters. I’m talking about for the audience.
Arriving at a dreamy tropical resort with their kids, Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps play a tense couple trying to keep it together for one last family vacation. We get glimpses of other guests at the resort, including a douchey surgeon (Rufus Sewell) and his much younger bikini-clad wife (Abbey Lee), and a male nurse (Ken Leung) and his wife (Nikki Amuka-Bird). All of these folks (and a few other peripherals) end up being covertly invited by the hotel manager to a super-secret gorgeous beach out in a nature reserve. Heck, we’ll drive you out there, give you picnic supplies, and even swing by to pick you up at the end of the day! Enjoy! Except you know it is a bad sign (in more ways that one) when Shyamalan himself shows up as the van driver. (Dude, you are no Hitchcock, and you can’t act.)
It is quickly evident that something is wrong with the trees… I mean, the beach. Mysterious forces are causing everyone to age rapidly. The kids start out as, well, kids, then quickly become young adults (amusingly, at least for a time, with Blue Lagoon child-like brains). But most curiously, everyone seems to have something wrong with them. One is quickly revealed to have some sort of mental illness, another is freaking out because of calcium deficiency, a tumor quickly grows, etc. etc. Interestingly, the group has enough skills to deal with many of the problems surprisingly bloodlessly, considering some of the carnage (there are some would-be-gross moments that are clearly filmed with a laughable PG-13 lens). But, given the circumstances, people start dying… fast.
The script is consistently cringe-worthy, despite the game cast’s best efforts. Throw-away lines explain why people’s hair and fingernails don’t grow/change while their bodies do, and the little kids surprisingly have wardrobe-change options when they turn into adults in the same day. The aging makeup is as terrible as you anticipate (“You have wrinkles!” …That look like they put glue on your forehead and made you wrinkle your brow!). The story feels rushed, even more so than these poor folks’ rapidly diminishing fates. But at the same time I felt like a half-hour episode of the classic Twilight Zone series would totally have nailed it.
By the time the big twist is revealed (and you know there has to be one, because: M. Night Shyamalan), it’s… actually kind of interesting. Does it make the rest of the film better? No, absolutely not. This is a stinker. But it is disappointing to realize at the end that there was actually a much better film lurking in this mess.