If I found myself on a beach that aged people, I have no idea what my reaction would be. It’s possible that I would constantly get into panicked screaming fights with whoever was with me, but what’s certain is how unwatchable that would be. Shyamalan always casts himself in his films, and here, he’s tasked with being a monitor of the beach from a high cliff. His character might have the hardest journey in Old. The shrieking unpleasantness of this film, where everyone is at a high volume and frequency, destroys any rooting interest. Coupled with Shyamalan’s clockwork dialogue, where every stilted monologue about someone’s past is a breadcrumb to a final reveal, Old becomes nothing more than an ill-considered thought experiment where Shyamalan looked at a picture of his kids ten years ago and thought there’s a movie in how people age.
Even that potentially strong device doesn’t work, because there’s no consistency between the three or four actors who play the children beyond a vague physical resemblance. As Trent ages into Alex Wolff, his body is different but shouldn’t his mind be the same? It becomes important for Trent to swim somewhere at a point in the film. Did the 6-year-old version of him know how to do that, and if not, did adult Trent get some comprehensive lessons in this harrowing 24 hour period? The balance in these kinds of high-concept films is that the viewer should be compelled enough that the obvious questions about plot are put aside, but when there’s no buy-in, the questions are all that’s left. The terminally stupid final reveal does nothing to tie everything up, leaving only the time that was wasted and a reminder to stop giving Shyamalan chances.
With actors like Bernal and Krieps, there should be something redeeming in Old. The viewer has to wait until they approach old age, when they speak less, for either’s talents to emerge. Facial acting from both is wildly superior to spouting whatever Shyamalan needs them to say. He has completely lost whatever he had going for him. Some of the beach’s inhabitants become murderous thanks to mental decay, adding the remnants of a slasher film to Old. Shyamalan used to be able to create dread. Now, his tactic is to artificially crowd characters in the frame so that a wider view, where people are lurking or creeping up, is impossible. The unimaginative nature of this is insulting, as is Old in general. Is there a beach that reverses time, so Shyamalan can get dumped there and rediscover what made him a promising young director? D