[Review] Shyamalan’s ‘OLD’ – life’s a beach, and then you die


James Clay // Film Critic


Rated PG-13, 108 minutes.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Eliza Scanlen, Aaron Pierre, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliott, Alexa Swinton, Gustaf Hammarsten, Francesca Eastwood, Nolan River, Luca Faustino Rodriguez, Mikaya Fisher and Kailen Jude

In an age when filmmakers are struggling to gain some creative steam in the studio system, M. Night Shyamalan can stay true to his vision for better or worse. His latest, OLD, is a wonky meditation on the passing of time and finding moments of grief, horror, and bewilderment along the way. Few of his ideas work as a whole, but Night has nothing to prove, and now with the Universal Studios pocketbook, he’s shooting his shot. Rather than aiming at a precise message, Night opts to throw a paint-filled water balloon against the wall and watch his ideas splatter all over the canvas. Luckily for the audience, it’s a beautiful beach filled with beautiful people tripping that their existence is slowly fading.

OLD breaks tradition for Night, whose films intrinsically occur in reality with paranormal elements lurking on the periphery. OLD is also the first film he’s shot not to take place (at least partly) in Philadelphia; he also adapted the film from the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peters. Despite this film ultimately being a whiff thematically with inconsistent ideas, Night is still oozing with ideas.

The film opens with married couple Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal), Prisca (Vicky Krieps), and their two kids Trent and Maddox (who are 6 and 11, respectively). They are getting away to a mysterious and cheap resort that Prisca found in an online ad; what could go wrong? The goal for Guy and Prisca is to tell the kiddos they are splitting up, and this is their last hoo-rah as a family.

After a curious cocktail and settling in, the family heads to a private beach where they encounter a laundry list of characters who play into several archetypes that become clear in the film’s finale. The supporting cast includes Rufus Sewell as a (not-so) low-key racist doctor, a spirited performance Abbey Lee, Ken Leung, Aaron Pierre, and Niki Asuka-Bird. Most of this cast is overqualified for this film, but that’s what provides the intrigue.

Also popping up in the cast are three of the most sought-after young actors working today. Alex Wolfe pops up, showcasing his scrappy version of hysteria. At the same time, Thomasin McKenzie gives a performance that’s intentionally slightly off, and Eliza Scanlen is once again on her own plane of existence. It’s inspiring to see these young and talented actors emerge if only they can keep getting daring material.

OLD’s big swing that doesn’t satisfy upon its premise, yet Night can infuse an extremely online galaxy-brained “what if” in the film’s final 10 minutes. And even if the film is a mixed bag and cinematography by Mike Gioulakis creates a jarring visual language, this film is the most fascinating film by a studio this year. Although OLD is a film Night could not have made early in his career, this is an artist and human being who’s wrestling with finding some hindsight in life while still living in the moment. If life is short, then the best way to enjoy it is it settle for a slowdown.

Grade: B-

OLD is now playing in theaters nationwide.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.