What does M Night Shyamalan have in store for audiences this time around? Shyamalan has made a career of shocking audiences with twists and turns in his work. The Shyamalan twist is one of the most famous aspects of modern cinema. I have a great passion for Shyamalan’s early work all the way up to and including The Village. Rock bottom arrived with After Earth which was one of the most boring sci-fi films I have ever watched. But hope came back! The Visit and beyond has turned the table and I have been quite excited about Old since that impressive trailer dropped.
So let us start with the stage set. What do we have? There is a time-accelerated beach in the nature preserve of a fancy resort. The resort selects two families and a couple to spend the day at this special beach (but obviously they do not know about this special time-bending aspect until it is well too late). We get to know all about each of these characters through clunky and inorganic dialogue (a trademark that is unfortunately expected of Shyamalan at this point). Why these people? Is there a reason they were chosen? You find out relatively easily from the screenplay…for better or worse. Nothing is subtle about Old. You find out everything you need to know easily even if some of those mysteries should have just been left as mysterious.
But what about the twist? This is Shyamalan so there must be one, right? It left me thinking that it was interesting but did not pack the shocking punch of some of his other works. This film is a greenhouse…full of plants. Every plant finds its roots and makes sure to blossom later. Unfortunately, most of them are terribly on the nose and/or easily telegraphed. The detailed nature of the film is admirable, but many become too obvious leading to a lack of surprise by the end.
Shyamalan’s writing did not do this film much favors but what about his direction? That is where that film can shine. Shyamalan is a real talent having been called the next Hitchcock after his first few works. The camera moves are dynamic in the film. Whether they are hiding horrifying visuals to build tension (and probably to avoid the R-rating) or not, the way the framing teases at the gore and violence is incredible. The pacing is there as this is a brisk moving film. The tension is felt throughout the film despite the efforts of the script to unmind it.
How about the actors who film Shyamalan’s film? They are surprisingly mixed at best. Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps are shockingly ineffective in this film as their line delivery is awkward and butchered. Thomasin McKenzie is so talented but her being saddled with baby talk undermines the emotion she is bringing to the role. Alex Wolff on the other hand is electric while on screen. Rufus Sewell felt like the main actor in the film who was consistently committed to his progressively unhinged performance. Most of the actors had moments where their lines were so bad that it looked painful for them to say them.
After a mostly disappointing previous film in Glass, is Shyamalan back on track? I would say he is floating in limbo with this middle ground flick. Old is a great example of a mixed bag. The script undermines its potential at every turn, but Shyamalan can grab the audience back with his inventive and bold choices as a director. I enjoyed this film…but plenty of elements leave me wanting.