Wedged between movie trailers filled with haunting, slow-jam covers that ruin once-beloved rock songs, but before the main feature that starts 20 minutes after the promised showtime, we now get messages from actors and directors thanking us for going to the movies. With dead eyes due to endless promotions, they read from a poorly placed teleprompter and tell us how movies are really “all about us,” the audience.
In M. Night Shyamalan’s joyless danke schoen, he mentions how grateful he is that he’s been able to make “original thrillers” for 30 years. Nevermind that Old is an adaptation, let’s talk about how my dude has stubbornly refused to improve as a writer for three full decades.
Everything after the first scene in Old must be watched upside down, as the dialogue in the initial 5 minutes demands nigh-biblical eye rolling. In this, a movie we all know is about a family who gets stuck on a beach that rapidly ages them, the mother, Prisca (Vicky Krieps), and father, Guy (Gael García Bernal), are introduced by taking turns saying things like “Gee whiz, it’s so important to treasure the time we have together.”
Shyamalan’s writing is like the Tin Man breakdancing after telling Dorothy to piss off with that oil: it is painfully clunky, horrible to listen to, and impossibly distracting. Maybe the film’s conceit would have worked in the hands of an artist who didn’t assume they were super-mega geniuses while their audiences are nothing but cotton-headed ninny muggins who need every plot device chewed up and baby bird barfed back at them?
Everyone stuck in the weird magic cove that serves as Father Time’s rectum understandably panics and tries to escape. It doesn’t go well. Kids rapidly age into teenaged sexual explorers, which goes worse. And then comes the ending, which is basically like if Rod Serling came out after a middling episode of Twilight Zone and said “I don’t know if you noticed what we did there, so let me walk you through some shit for another half hour.”
Some of the material stuffed between the ham-fisted intro and gag-inducing epilogue is borderline good. But if the bread is made from doody, a sandwich’s filling is wholly irrelevant. To be clear, weird and borderline comical horror can be divine. It just takes immense talent and trust in viewers. Some of the best scenes in Hereditary split the audience down the middle, with half LOL-ing what the other half was OMG-ing. The best scene in Old turns an Instagram influencer into a Lovecraftian tangle of human flesh. That’s somewhat close, I guess?
Generous, kind readings of Old see past the Shyamalan of it all, which takes a skill and fortitude that few possess. They see an absurdist repurposing of our inevitable mortality into something akin to a slasher villain. But shaking a fist at mortality and time is…not really something that has gone unshaken for the last, oh, entirety of human existence.
To continue the comparison, when Hereditary warped family trauma into explicit horror, the result was a new way of considering psychological burdens we all carry. Old reaffirms the same generic positions on the need to prioritize our lives that The Shaggy Dog had. If more was being said here, it was washed away by the relentless tide of Shyamalan, whose insistence on starring in his films long ago stopped being a fun cameo and became a narcissistic indulgence.
Whatever you like about his work can be found better in other things that aren’t laden with his blunt-force dialogue and condescending exposition. Three decades of twisty mysteries should be sufficient for this dude to find a clue.
Grade = D
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Terry Mesnard of Gayly Dreadful says “What’s fascinating about his latest is that, in a career that’s given us everything from Unbreakable to Lady in the Water, Old might not be his best work, but it’s easily his most disturbing. It’s also his weirdest and, yes, bravest piece of work yet.”
Jamie Broadnax at Black Girl Nerds says “Perhaps Shyamalan has done a course correction here from his recent misses and may have gotten his mojo back.”
Megan Navarro at Bloody Disgusting says “Horror is a small fish in a sea of quirky eccentricities. But if Shyamalan was aiming to capture how strange, erratic, and absurd the passage of time really is, well, he succeeds here.”