They grow up so quickly. That’s what everyone always says when you have kids. That old axiom comes to horrifying life in “Old,” the new film from director thrill meister M. Night Shyamalan, now playing in theatres.
Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps are Guy and Prisca Capa, parents to 11-year-old daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and six-year-old son Trent (Nolan River). They are headed for divorce but before the ink dries on the legal papers, they want one last three-day family vacation at a fancy resort. “Can you believe I found this place on-line?” says Prisca, taking in the beautiful hotel.
Despite tension between mom and dad, the kids have fun, and when the resort offers an invitation to visit an exclusive beach, they eagerly accept. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” purrs the manager.
Coming along on the day trip is an assortment of other guests, including high strung cardiothoracic surgeon, Charles, (Rufus Sewell) and his family, rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) and long-married couple Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird).
A shadow is cast on the day of sun, surf and sand when a dead woman washes ashore on the beach. Trying to call for help, the panicked vacationers quickly realize they are alone, isolated, with no cell service or anyway to get back to civilization.
When the mysterious body decomposes right in front of their eyes, wounds heal instantly and their kids begin to age two years every hour, they realize, in a masterstroke of understatement that “there’s something wrong with this beach.” “It’s hard to explain,” adds Guy.
Is it mass hysteria or is something more sinister happening?
Based on the graphic novel “Sandcastle,” by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, “Old” has an intriguing premise, one that could sit on the shelf comfortably next to the “Twilight Zone” box set. But the ain’t-it-funny-how-time-slips-away premise is almost undone by painfully bad dialogue and the strangely muted reactions of most of the characters. When your six-year-old grows up and has a baby in a matter of hours I would expect some deep introspection alongside shrieks and confused looks. Instead, this group is unusually accepting of the beyond strange situation.
Having said that, Shyamalan is a stylist who creates arthouse horror in “Old.” He effectively builds tension—most of the movie is as taut as a tightrope—and finds interesting ways of showing, not telling, the character’s physical changes like blindness and hearing loss. In addition, the really terrible stuff is mostly off screen, an old school Val Lewton technique, that allows the audience to imagining things much worse than he could show us.
Beyond the horror are poignant messages about embracing the time we have and that a life that whips by without memories or experiences, is time wasted. As time passes, the movie suggests, leaving things unsaid and undone are the greatest crimes in the timelines of our lives.
“Old” is melodramatic and has a protracted ending that wraps things up without providing much satisfaction but Shyamalan provides enough thrills to make it time well spent.