Love him or hate him, M. Night Shyamalan is one of the signature filmmaking voices of our time. With his newest movie, Old, Shyamalan returns to the feel of his older films like Signs, while carving out an exciting and original niche in the thriller genre. Working with perhaps the largest cast he has assembled yet, the director takes big swings in adapting the graphic novel Sandcastle from Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters. While I can’t say how closely Old veers to the text that inspired it, I have not been this invested in an unfolding mystery in a very long time.
Welcome to the Anamika Resort, or as described, “our version of paradise!” Soft-spoken analyst Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal), his museum-excavator wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps), and their two children, 11-year old Maddox (Alex Swinton) and 6-year old Trent (Nolan River) are prepped for scuba diving, relaxing on the beach, and sipping special-made cocktails (and don’t worry… there is a water fountain for the kids). It is all fun and games at first, and the resort’s owner extends a special invitation for the family of four: a private hidden beach on the nature preserve side of the island which will make for a “once in a lifetime experience.”
Naturally, Guy and Presca take him up on the offer, accompanied by their excited and enthusiastic kids. Once they get to this beach, bizarre mishaps start to unfold. An eclectic cast of characters, including a pensive rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), a male nurse (Ken Leung) whose wife (Nikki Amuka-Bird) has epilepsy, and a cardiothoracic surgeon (Rufus Sewell) with his much younger vain companion (Abbey Lee), quickly realize they are trapped here together with little hope of survival.
The body of a nude young woman floats in the water, absent of fish, and the children began aging rapidly. If they try to leave, intense cranial pressure causes them to blackout and awaken on shore. Cuts become scars in mere seconds, and of course, there is no cell reception. Racing against the clock to find a way of escaping the mysterious cove, tensions reach a boiling point as the wrinkles multiply.
If any of this sounds like Shyamalan’s take on Lost, it most certainly skirts close in tone to that television masterpiece. The breadth of the massive cast gives us a wide array of character viewpoints and angles, but it is the twists and turns of the narrative that hooked me. Immaculate casting of young and old counterparts keeps the audience invested in each journey as it unfolds. It also helps that the old-age makeup is so damn good. The core family of four that we started the movie with are Old’s strongest performers. Hereditary’s Alex Wolff plays one of the more complex roles, which requires a deeply nuanced and layered turn that I think he pulls off wonderfully.
Even with the fast-pace of the concept, Shyamalan is able to wring emotionally captivating moments of beauty from the horror. The deaths are distinct and varied, with a standout sequence delivering a one-two punch of jaw-dropping surprise. Violence and horror is mostly implied rather than shown, leaving your imagination to fill in the nasty holes. This is one mean and bleak film, but the finale completely knocks it out of the park and provides satisfying closure to everything that came before.
Old will be equally as divisive as anything else M. Night Shyamalan has done. Personally, this is my favorite of his since 2015’s The Visit, a movie which in itself marked the director’s big return after a disappointing three-film run of The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. He has established a brand of shock and twists, with audiences turning out only to see what Shyamalan has up his sleeve. Haters will find plenty more to hate here, even in Old’s stylistic flourishes.
Yet again, Old has a great twist that fits the film like a glove if you have been paying attention. The concluding segment pushed the film from really good to genuinely great in my eyes. It leaves you plenty to contemplate in its moral implications and visual lusciousness. I look forward to seeing where Shyamalan takes us next—I, for one, enjoyed taking this special, horrific holiday.
Old traps you on the island, in theaters everywhere on Friday.