There’s an audacious, absurd conceit at the centre of Old. Imagine holidaying on a Twilight Zone-type beach, which caused you to age years in the space of hours. It’s a potentially terrifying and/or thought-provoking idea. But despite delivering some early intrigue, writer/director (and, yes, cameo-er) M. Night Shyamalan’s execution never manages to avoid the concept’s inherent silliness, with too little substance to disguise the unintentional laughs.
We begin with the Capa family escaping for a seemingly much-needed break, and from the off, Old galumphs unsubtly. Mum Prisca (Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps) taps away on her phone (without even having the decency to turn the keyboard click-sound off) and dad Guy (Gael García Bernal) is an insurance actuary who analyses risk for a living; characters are signposted more blatantly than the high-end resort to which they’re heading.
Not long after they’ve been handed cocktails by reception it’s clear that theirs is a troubled marriage, but they’re hoping to suppress their issues for one last family holiday with their young daughter and son. They’ve barely finished their first breakfast when the manager offers them a secret escape to the aforementioned secluded bay. Getting there is no problem, but leaving proves more problematic when the beach’s adverse effects become apparent.
Shyamalan does mine some early tension from the concept, and the irony of being trapped in a wish-you-weren’t-here postcard idyll. There’s also a brief window of amusement trying to predict inevitable revelations. It’s hard to ever feel invested, though. It’s not just the dialogue that’s clunky and on the nose; the characters themselves suffer the same ignominy, including the other families they meet on the beach. Each feels like they’ve been selected because of their job, which they can refer to when spelling something out with thundering obviousness. There’s a doctor (Rufus Sewell) and a nurse (Ken Leung), a museum curator (that’s Krieps) and of course, Guy’s job means he frequently spouts statistics about how likely certain events are.
Even great actors like Krieps and García Bernal flounder with the hamfisted dialogue. As the children age (Alexa Swinton becomes Thomasin McKenzie, Nolan River becomes Alex Wolff, Kylie Begley becomes Eliza Scanlen), the reveals often feel more worthy of sniggers than gasps. There’s a lot that could be said about mortality and parent-child relationships, but Shyamalan almost always opts for a shock over anything more introspective; when the film does attempt to do something a little more contemplative, it’s too little too late.
A lack of ambiguity also works to Old’s detriment. When everything is laid out so plainly, you’re almost invited to rip it apart. A more enigmatic treatment of the central problem might have invited a more willing suspension of disbelief. As it is, it doesn’t feel like Old is going to age well.
Old is in cinemas from July 23. For more, check out the most exciting upcoming movies heading our way,