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Old

Released 2021. Director: M. Night Shyamalan

REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE A KID YOU COULDN'T WAIT to grow up? Then comes middle-age and some of us fret about getting older. The process of aging is a train nobody can get off. Now comes a movie where aging is unnatural and turbo-charged you go through a lifetime in a couple of days. Help! The fast-forward button is stuck.

On a secluded beach a group of holidaymakers find themselves aging rapidly, trapped with no way back. Time and tide really wait for no one here, and neither do wrinkles. Old is a mystery served with a dose of horror and splatters of blood. The central intrigue holds up nicely until it loses its grip and waddles on with unsatisfying attempts to tie up all loose ends.

The unlucky lot comprises Guy and Prisca, their children Maddox and Trent; Charles and Chrystal, his mum Agnes, their daughter Kara; Jarin and Patricia; plus someone named Mid-Sized Sedan, a rapper who arrived on the beach the day before.

The first sign of trouble is the discovery of a body washed ashore. Then they notice the kids have begun to change, growing up right before their parents’ eyes while the adults take a little longer to age. Agnes, the oldest among them, dies before lunchtime.

What’s happening to these people? They desperately try to find out and get out but every time someone tries to find a way back they lose consciousness. The clock is ticking and the countdown has begun, a narrative tactic that always provides dramatic impetus in the hands of a skillful director.

Old isn’t as tightly directed or as detailed as other movies by M. Night Shyamalan that are based on his own original stories. Adapted from Sandcastle, a graphic novel by Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, Shyamalan’s presentation is short on imagination and freshness when it comes to the storytelling. Visually, the man shows a few inspired touches such as the kids ‘frozen in time’ playing freeze tag, a stark contrast to their accelerated growth about to kick off.

To be fair, Old is way better than his most disappointing effort (that would be Lady in the Water) but far from his best. The characters are treated more like devices to be moved around with very little affection or empathy (remember how you felt for Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense or even Bryce Dallas Howard in The Village?) and exist mainly to react to their surroundings.

We’re talking actors that include Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps and Rufus Sewell, also Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie, a cast totally capable of delivering much more than a collective display of panic.

I also find the explanation quite unpersuasive. Unsuspecting guinea pigs in some bizarre medical trial? This is a conspiracy not of a modest scale and the simplistic manner in which it’s revealed shows a lack of care in writing a mystery built on too many questions with half-baked answers.

The ideas are interesting, including the speculation about rare minerals and the Earth’s magnetic field, but there are just too many plot holes to keep the water from leaking. If this was trial 73, seventy-two batches of people have gone to the beach so there ought to be a lot more skeletal remains. How come the authorities haven’t closed down the resort when hundreds of overseas tourists have checked in and never seen again? The way they cut a tumour the size of a grapefruit out of Prisca it’s truly a religious miracle the woman didn’t get the slightest infection. And Mid-Sized Sedan who arrived at the beach a day earlier than the rest should have become a lot older. There are more examples but you get the drift.

Beneath the shock entertainment, the movie can be seen as an allegory about the fear of getting old. Look at the amount of advertising around us on battling the signs of aging and you see capitalising on this fear is big business. You can fight tooth and nails like Charles does, or like Gus and Prisca you can come to terms with the inevitable and be at peace, die surrounded by people who matter.

Similarly, there’s the perception of every parent their kids are growing up too fast (where has the time gone?) and the trepidation that our elderly parents have aged so much (how much time do they have left?). But instead of using the strange phenomenon to reflect on the human condition and exploit the common amazement and fear we all feel about the passage of time, the mystery in Old is diminished when a bad ending should’ve left the inexplicable alone.

There are moments that show Old could’ve been a better movie, more cogent, more tense, more mystifying, even profound. In the meantime, let’s move on, we're not getting any younger.


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