A mind-twister, indeed, when strange things of the M. Night Shyamalan kind also exist beyond Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Entranced and thus inspired by the premise of the graphic novel Sandcastle written by Pierre-Oscar Lévy and drawn by Frederick Peeters, Old sees the filmmaker travel to — and cameo in — the Dominican Republic to make a beach that pushes visitors through major life cycles in just one day. Wrinkle-free at first, wrinkle-full at last. Meaty in the morning, skeletal come sundown. Months of pregnancy in minutes. And more. Chaos is constant, varied, and in-your-face.
Old’s budget and scope are only 1/10th of After Earth and The Last Airbender, yet Shyamalan paints it as if he has a canvas much larger than what’s printed on the box. Limitless, even. Consequently, it’s all fair game when a darkly comedic note is struck in a hyper-tense sequence, and an existential thriller is sprinkled on top of apparent body horror. These swings, beyond making the storyline wilder than one could expect, suggest Shyamalan is trying something different; it won’t alter his prints in any radical way, but it’s telling enough to be observable. Personally, the difference is his willingness to minimize the spiritual, or inner, aspect that would always be present in his works — those he completely oversees or is otherwise involved with — and embrace another, one more overt in nature. Sounds appropriate for this concept of a literally killer beach.
Does this mean Old is treading the same B-grade thriller-horror road The Happening once traveled? Likely so, but this time around, the passengers are both starrier and inhabit more appropriate roles. That said, not every performance works in this Shyamalan trip — not everyone is up to the task of the type of performance that would allow them to fit in his world and be considered natural. It should be easier to be drawn to museum archeologist Pesca (Vicky Krieps), her daughter Maddox (Thomasin McKenzie) and surgeon Charles (Rufus Sewell) than the rest — key among them Pesca’s actuary husband Guy (Gael García Bernal), the family’s son Trent (Alex Wolff), Charles’ young wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their daughter Kara (Eliza Scanlen) and rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) — whenever they navigate the wrongness of the beach. Or the off-kilter photography choices from director of photography Mike Gioulakis that would disorient and imply degradation. Well, everything except for those pure-nonsense whip zoom-and-swivels.
Through the Pesca-Maddox-Charles trio, we find the means to forgive Old’s cold-shouldering of its inherent metaphorical suggestions. The material’s stronger, maybe truer, horror lies there; a more traditional Shyamalan would dive into this without question. The aging process, which for some alters only appearances and leaves minds unscathed. The inevitable cherry-picking of which dramas and secrets to confront, knowing the end is nigh. There are more, of course, but listing them might be futile since they would be out of place in this current vision for Old. Having no room to be reflective is thus not exactly an issue here; Shyamalan just wants to spin you and startle you in his own ways. That he did, unquestionably, even when not all of the methods would elicit his preferred reaction.
Old will be in US and UK theatres on July 23