MOVIE REVIEW: M. Night Shyamalan’s “OLD”

There seems to be a wave of hatred against the films of M. Night Shyamalan. Armchair internet wannabe critics love to trash his work these days. This is completely unfair.

While it may seem that his ability to make a great film is behind him, Shyamalan has only truly stumbled once or twice. Save for his two director-for-hire studio films “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth,” I believe the director has inventive ideas and a love for the craft.

“The Sixth Sense” was a critical and commercial hit, rightly so. Shyamalan’s talents were immediately obvious and the way in which he made the film and toyed with his audience drew comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock.

Based on his next two films, 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2002’s “Signs” (my favorite of his films), the director made good on the fortune bestowed on him from fans and critics.

It was 2004’s “The Village” that began to divide fans. Many called it another Shyamalan triumph while others (including myself) could not get past the many problems within the story and the bad final twist that failed to have the impact of his first three.

2006’s “Lady in the Water” was a fairytale for his children. Some audiences were receptive. Most critics were not. I found it an enjoyable one-off with a good cast.

After his two director-for-hire projects the filmmaker returned to his personal style with 2008’s “The Happening,” the film that all but destroyed his reputation. It was bad. Critics and audiences responded in kind as the film was destroyed in the press and failed at the box office.

Shyamalan’s 2015 “The Visit” and 2016’s “Split” were films that showed a return to form. Both were creepy, popcorn-chomping, fun. “Split” even upped the ante with a career-best performance by James McAvoy.

2019’s “Glass” was what it was. It closed out Shyamalan’s dark take on comic heroes and villains by completing the trilogy that began with “Unbreakable” and “Split.” It wasn’t bad. But no frissons to be had here, either.

As it stands, I found “The Happening” to be the filmmaker’s worst. There are moments that are absolutely infuriating and so laughably bad that I could not believe it wasn’t a parody.

That film no longer holds the title, as we arrive at his latest, “Old.”

I dislike giving bad reviews. But I have no idea what happened to the director on this one. His film, in its screenplay, its acting and its design, isn’t believable.

Nothing works.

Based on Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters’s graphic novel “Sandcastle,” the film concerns a family beset by problems. Father Guy (Gabriel Garcia Bernal), mother Prisca (Vicky Krieps), daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and son Trent (Nolan River) end up on a beach where the body’s cells age at highly accelerated rates, to the point where people’s lifespans are reduced down to hours.

The rest of the group is made up of a popular rapper named “Mid-Sized Sedan” (Aaron Pierre), an unstable surgeon (Rufus Sewell) his mother (Kathleen Chalfant) and his trophy wife (Abby Lee) and their six-year-old daughter. There is also a nurse (Ken Jeung) and his wife (Nikki Amuka-Bird) who suffers from epilepsy.

As the vacationers begin to realize they are prisoners on the island and figure out what is happening to them, they plan their escape. Attempts to return the way they came meet with failure. The doomed coterie begins to break down while trying (and failing) to keep level heads. Insanity creeps in. People get dangerous and violent and soon they become the threat.

The film’s description sounds like a good plot for an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” “The Outer Limits,” or “Tales from the Crypt.” If only.

It is obvious that something is wrong from the very beginning. Shyamalan’s framing is strange and his scenes and dialogue play oddly. Good or bad, there is a cadence to his films, and it is immediately obvious that this one is straying from that signature.

Once we get to the island and things begin to spiral, the film slips out of its director’s hands, splashing a tidal wave of ineptitude over the audience.

The screenplay (adapted by the director) is awful, and the good cast seems as if they are forced at gunpoint to say the preposterously bad lines.

Such lines as “My swimsuit hurts,” “he was six years old this morning,” “Yep, my daughter just aged,” and “we just got three hours older while you touched my face” are hilariously terrible and sound as if they were written by a child.

Each actor (all have given good performances before) is bad here. Bernal has done such good work for directors such as Alfonso Cuaron and Pedro Almodovar and Krieps is far removed from her classy reserve in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread.”

I am sure the two actors are trying their best, but the dialogue is so insipid that it cannot be conquered.

Rufus Sewell fairs no better, as his performance is immediately campy and gets worse from there. Abby Lee (as his wife) gives the film’s worst performance. She overdoes the caricature of the beauty-obsessed twenty-something to cartoonish levels. In a later scene, as her body begins to decline, her reactions are meant to be frightening but instead, elicit laughs. It is a scene that must be experienced to be believed.

When an adolescent comes back from a walk a few years older and almost eight months pregnant, the two actors in the moment look ridiculous, the scene plays badly.

It is for greater minds than I to decipher the mysteries regarding Shyamalan’s direction on this film. It is as if the filmmaker was tired of hearing his detractors and purposely set out to make the most awful of films to remind everyone that his previous cinematic missteps weren’t really that bad.

Not one thing in this film is successful. The acting, Mike Gioulakis’s cinematography, the screenplay, the direction, etc. Not one moment plays.

The whole piece is an out-of-control mess.

M. Night Shyamalan is a director who receives a lot of backlash, and that is not what I am doing here. Based on at least four of his films, I recognize his talent and know that he can craft an entertaining film.

Unfortunately, his latest is something that I cannot defend. “Old” is a preposterous and utterly foolish genre exercise that is one of the most unintentionally hilarious films I have ever seen from a major filmmaker.

Thomasin McKenzie and Aaron Pierre in “Old”

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