LIFE'S A BEACH AND THEN YOU DIE
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell
Review: RJ Bland
M Night Shyamalan is a name that has a fair bit of baggage attached to it nowadays and whilst there are many that are fans, there are just as many who think he's a bit of a one trick pony. Things started out so well. By the turn of the millennium, he had established himself as one of the most promising young film-makers in the industry. By the time he had made both The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000), he was still in his twenties. That doesn't happen unless you are exceptionally talented. However, the quality of his films took a bit of a nosedive over the course of the next decade. Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008) and The Last Airbender (2010) were not well received and it seemed that audiences had well and truly tired of his work. However, a redemption story is always fun and Shyamalan's came with creepy senior horror The Visit (2015) and was rubber stamped with the rather splendid Split (2017). His long awaited follow-up to Unbreakable, - Glass, proved to be a bit of a misfire but there is no doubt that nearly twenty years after he broke onto the scene, Shyamalan is still a name that carries some weight, despite his inconsistent filmography. And although his films are rarely out and out horror, most of them are horror-adjacent at the very least. As is the case with his latest effort, Old.
Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) are a couple in real trouble. With their relationship effectively over, they decide to take their two young children, six year old Brett and 11 year old Maddox on one last family holiday before they split. They head to a luxury resort on a remote island (that Prisca discovered on the internet) and on their arrival, are greeted with a warm welcome and cocktails. However, once inside their plush hotel room, Prisca and Guy struggle to keep a lid on things. It's not going to be a holiday full of precious memories for these kids. However, things feel a bit more positive when the resort manager offers them the chance to visit a secluded beach on a nearby nature preserve. He only extends the invite to guests he really likes, apparently. The family accept and are soon sitting in a van with a handful of other guests, being driven (by Shyamalan himself) to the secret beach. When they arrive, it looks as beautiful and empty as they were promised. However, when a dead body washes up, their day of relaxation turns sour. With no mobile phone reception and no obvious way off the beach, the group are forced to think outside the box. Alarm bells ring even louder when they realise that there's something wrong with the children. They seem to be growing up a bit too quickly...
Old feels like the quintessential Shyamalan movie. It's full of ideas, it's got a super cool high concept plot and it looks great. However, the script and style remain an acquired taste and for some, this will make it an incredibly frustrating watch.
Feeling a bit like an episode of The Twilight Zone, the set up for Old is wonderfully weird and unsettling. Shyamalan has made a knack of tapping into our universal fears and alongside death, the process of ageing is right up there for most people. Here we get both, as our characters play out years of their lives within hours, on a seemingly inescapable fast track journey to death. Dying and getting old are both inevitable facts of life and yet we're able to cope (for the most part) with these concepts because we feel as if we still have more time. Old rips that safety blanket from under our feet and lets us sink quickly in the sandy beach underneath. Although it shies away from anything overtly graphic, it seems to take joy in exploring the repercussions of the predicament our characters find themselves in. Whilst the adults decline is more mental than physical (generally speaking!), there's something quite startling about the rapid shifts in size and shape of the children as they hurtle towards adolescence and beyond. Kids eh? They grow up so fast, don't they? On this particular beach, that couldn't be more true.
Whilst the ensemble cast are all undoubtedly talented actors, the characters and the way they interact with each other feel a bit off. It's an intended quirk of this Director and one that can often feel rather unnatural and stagey. Like an imitation of how people talk and act with another. In some cases, this disorientation works quite effectively depending on the setting/situation but here, when characters are facing such a grave situation and relationships are falling apart – it doesn't quite work. There is a belief amongst many that Shyamalan is a great director, but a very average writer and it's true that some of the dialogue and exchanges between characters feel a little absurd. There are relationships and family dynamics that feel artificial and rather than adding to our anxiety (well, it does do that to some extent) it makes an already implausible situation feel even less grounded. Heavy handed exposition scenes also weigh things down somewhat too.
Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of M. Night's films are his twists, which are key in nearly every feature he's ever made. However, he always concludes a story in a definitive way and Old is wrapped up pretty neatly by the time the credits roll. Whether you'll be satisfied with the lifting of the veil is debatable but it at least isn't the worst explanation that could have been dreamt up.
So, in short, it's a mixed bag and it highlights the Director's flaws and strengths in equal measure. So whilst he remains divisive amongst genre fans, we're going to sit firmly on the fence with this one.