“A film by M. Night Shyamalan” is a punchline. Again.
The director of “The Sixth Sense” went from the next Spielberg to a laughingstock over the first part of his career. Then he reassembled his cinematic street cred with first “The Visit” and, later, “Split.”
The 2019 stinker “Glass” suggested his return to form was short lived. “Old,” the newest “Twilight Zone” style offering from the director, proves it.
A troubled couple go on vacation with their two children, unaware of the challenges that await them. Museum curator Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and her husband Guy (Gael García Bernal) start their trip at a posh resort, but they soon sneak away to a gorgeous alcove away from the crush of tourists.
Their two children, Trent (Nolan River) and Maddox (Alexa Swinton), aren’t aware of their parents’ marital issues, but that seems less important than a new development.
These kids are aging. Fast. And the dead body that just washed ashore isn’t making the mood any less tense. Why are these vacationers suddenly aging? Can they escape this slab of paradise before they all grow “Old” and die?
More importantly, what in the world is Shyamalan doing to us?
“Old” plays out like a student film at times, artsy and bold without any sense of purpose. Characters say bizarre, stilted things. Solid actors like Rufus Sewell, playing a doctor with a curious bedside manner, look overmatched by the thin material. The story moves in fits and starts, making little sense and creating virtually no reason to care about anyone or anything.
The film’s wondrous first act, filled with visual touches that only Shyamalan can render, gives way to an utter mess. Is this a treatise on aging? If so, there’s almost nothing cogent to respond to on the subject.
More importantly, some characters seem to noticeably age while others take their sweet time. Is that on purpose, or is the production unable to visually present how a 30-something couple might enter their 40s and beyond?
Surely a modern Hollywood production can pull off that modest stunt, right?
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A few sequences are, indeed, hard to forget, including a curious operation aided by some simple, slick CGI. Otherwise, it’s hard to know what the writer/director, riffing off the Swiss graphic novel “Sandcastle,” has to say this time ’round.
Of course there’s a big, ol’ twist awaiting us. When it arrives it’s a relief, only because it means the end credits are coming at long last. Is it a satisfying reveal? Many will greet the news with a shrug. After sifting through the narrative debris that is “Old,” it’s hard to muster up any other reaction.
HiT or Miss: “Old” is an endurance test even for Shyamalan devotees, the latest example of his career deterioration.