Old (2021) — Stuck on a beach with a day to live

“Stop wishing away this moment.”

Justin’s rating: Back to writing school

Justin’s review: When I started writing for Mutant Reviewers, I was a wet-behind-the-ears twenty-one. Today as I write this, I’m 45 with not a small amount of white hair and crow’s feet. More and more, I think of what it’ll be like to be old — because I know it’s coming. I also struggle with watching my kids growing faster than I’d prefer. It feels like yesterday they were a gaggle of toddlers, and now I’ve got a house of pre-teens.

The concept of aging can be quite terrifying to some people. For us, the arrow only goes one way, and every day we’re older than the day before. Tapping into that common terror wasn’t the worst idea for M. Night Shyamalan even if, like most Shyamalan flicks, Old gets a bit frayed and weird before his trademark twist ending.

Whatever else I may say, I think the premise of Old is intriguing for its simplicity and possibilities. A resort in some unnamed tropical country encourages a few of its families to check out a secluded beach. Here, they find out two chilling truths. One, they all start aging at the rate of one year per half-hour. And two, they can’t escape the beach.

That’s the kind of idea that you need for a great scifi story where you create a strange situation and examine how people would react in it. This group contains a family in the midst of a divorce, a rapper, a cop, a doctor, and several kids. It all starts unspooling quickly. The kids start growing up before their parents’ eyes, an elderly lady keels over and dies, and everyone’s medical conditions start popping up at an accelerated rate.

Shyamalan always feels like a director who can do a few things really well and a lot of things really sloppily. High concept premise? He’s got that. A way with the camera that pulls you into a scene? Sure. Endings that everyone likes to talk about? Sort of, yes.

But Old highlights how he struggles with a whole lot of the basics, such as characterization and storytelling, and that’s a major drawback. So many of the characters here come off as odd and stiff, like a second-year creative writing major who feels that every one of her characters have to introduce themselves by stating their occupation right away. It’s like everyone is an exposition machine about one subject — them — and you’re going to hear them all.

Nobody acts like a real person, not in the least. And so we end up with a group of people we’re not connected with bumbling about trying to figure out every new development while Shyamalan clubs us over the head with whatever he wants us to know or notice. The only thing more frustrating than this is when he has something happening that he won’t let us see directly, presumably to save on special effects or avoid an R rating.

All of this off-kilter writing and storytelling means that what should be deeply unnerving and scary ends up being unintentionally silly and dumb. You know, like a lot of Shyamalan movies. So characters have realization via Batman logic (you know what I’m talking about, yes?), a tumor grows to the size of a cantaloupe in seconds, and a formerly little girl has sex and gives birth within the span of minutes. I mean, it’s not The Happening goofy, but it’s in that vicinity.

If you approach Old like a mid-tier Twilight Zone episode with some above-average cinematography, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed. Keep that bar really low, is what I’m saying, and maybe you’ll find that this movie clears it at times.

Didja notice?

  • These two little kids talk like old teenagers
  • Wow, can this woman be any more narcissistic?
  • There are no fish
  • Beach tumor surgery
  • The counselor loves to have everyone talk about their feelings
  • The bone dust coming out of the little blanket is an affecting moment
  • “I need my calcium!” is the most unintentionally funny line you’ll hear all year

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