July 23, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed tropical beach location, the horror film “Old” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Several people who are on vacation at a beachside resort are invited to go to a secretive beach on the property, and they find out that this mysterious beach causes rapid aging and is difficult to escape.
Culture Audience: “Old” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan or who don’t mind seeing a horror movie that takes an intriguing concept and squanders it with terrible screenwriting.
The only thing that gets really old quickly in “Old” is how this abysmally bad horror movie keeps shoving ludicrous dialogue, dumb plot holes and tiresome characters in viewers’ faces. The story is mainly about vacationers stuck on a sinister beach where everyone ages rapidly. Viewers of this awful dreck will be stuck wondering how much worse “Old” can get, as it continues a pile-on of inconsistent and ill-conceived science fiction.
Many of the movie’s characters are as unappealing as the disgusting giant tumor that makes an appearance at one point in the movie. (You’ve been warned.) “Old” (written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan) is the type of dreadful movie where a 6-year-old boy experiences the trauma of swimming in a beach area when a floating dead body of a naked woman crashes into him, but his parents react as if the kid should eventually forget about this decomposing cadaver, just because they covered up the body with a blanket. Meanwhile, just a few minutes after the body is discovered, one of the other kids on the beach who witnessed this horror pipes up, “I’m hungry!”
“Old” is based on the 2010 graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters. And it’s the type of cinematic misfire where you can tell that the book is much better than the movie. Shyamalan has a very mixed track record when it comes to his horror/suspense films because of his frustrating tendency to create convoluted and unnecessary plot holes that lower the quality of the material. “Old” isn’t his worst-ever movie, but it’s not good enough to be considered simply average.
“Old” starts out fairly promising in the part of the movie that doesn’t take place on the ominous beach. The main protagonists are a family of four vacationing at a beach resort called Anamika Resort in an unnamed tropical location. (“Old” was actually filmed in the Dominican Republic.) Once the movie switches to the “beach that causes rapid aging” scenes, the story quickly goes downhill from there.
Insurance actuary Guy Capa (played by Gael García Bernal), his museum curator wife Prisca Capa (played by Vicky Krieps) and their two children—11-year-old daughter Maddox (played by Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old son Trent (played by Nolan River)—are a family from Philadelphia who are on vacation. They’ve arrived by a shuttle van to Anamika Resort, which seems to cater to a middle-class and upper-middle-class clientele. The family is warmly greeted by the resort’s staff, including the unnamed resort manager (played by Gustaf Hammarsten) and his perky assistant named Madrid (played by Francesca Eastwood), who promptly offers the adults some cocktails. It’s at this point in the movie that you know that there’s more to those cocktails than meets the eye.
The family seems very happy with the resort so far. Prisca (pronounced “priss-kah”) marvels at the beauty of the resort and says, “Can you believe I found this place online?” The four family members quickly get settled into their suite and spend some time outside in the resort’s beach/activities area. Trent is an inquisitive and friendly motormouth, while Maddox is quieter and more reserved. The siblings get along with each other very well. The same can’t be said for their parents.
Guy and Prisca have two big secrets that they want to keep from their children while they’re on this three-day vacation. The first big secret is that Guy and Prisca are going to separate. It’s revealed later in the movie why they’ve been having marital problems. The other big secret is that Prisca has been recently diagnosed with a serious medical illness.
Prisca and Guy plan to tell the kids about the separation after their vacation ends. Prisca is more hestitant about when to tell the children about her big health problem. There are hints of why Prisca and Guy have been clashing when they start arguing about when they should tell the children about Prisca’s medical diagnosis.
Prisca shouts at Guy, “You’re always thinking about the future!” Guy yells back at Prisca, “You’re always thinking about the past!” Meanwhile, a sad-looking Trent and Maddox are seen in the next room, overhearing their parents’ argument. It’s a sign that the kids know more about what’s going on in this marriage than the parents think the children know.
At the resort, Trent has made fast friends with another precocious and extroverted boy who’s about the same age. His name is Idlib (played by Kailen Jude), and he says the resort manager is his uncle. Idlib lives at the resort, and there’s no mention of his biological parents. Viewers will have to assume that Idlib’s uncle is Idlib’s legal guardian, because the uncle seems to be the only parental-like authority in Idlib’s life.
Trent and Idlib find out that they both have an interest in deciphering coded language. Idlib and Trent also like going up to random vacationers at the resort and asking them their names and what they do for a living, in order to strike up friendly conversations with them. Trent doesn’t go too far away from his parents or Maddox, so that Trent is always within view of his family members.
At the resort’s main beach, Trent and Idlib meet three adults who are sitting together on lounge chairs. One of them is an American cop named Greg Mitchell (played by Daniel Ison), and he’s with his dancer wife and their British female friend who’s a chef. The only purpose of this scene is so that viewers will know there’s an off-duty cop on the premises.
Meanwhile, at the resort’s main beach area, viewers see another family of vacationers who will be a big part of the story. Charles (played by Rufus Sewell) is an arrogant cardiothoracic surgeon/chief medical officer. He’s at the resort with his vain, much-younger trophy wife Chrystal (played by Abbey Lee); their 6-year-old daughter Kara (played by Kylie Begley); and Charles’ mother Agnes (played by Kathleen Chalfant), who doesn’t show much of a personality in this movie.
While having lunch at an outdoor cafe near the beach, Chrystal lectures Kara about sitting up straight in her chair. Chrystal tells Kara that if she doesn’t practice good posture, she’ll be a hunchback who’ll be unattractive to men. Meanwhile, Chrystal somewhat flirts with the waiter serving them, even though the waiter looks like he’s barely out of high school. This scene is relevant to what happens later in the story.
It doesn’t take long for some drama to start on the beach. A vacationer at the resort named Patricia (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) has an epileptic seizure, in full view of the two families. Patricia’s attentive husband Jarin (played by Ken Leung), who identifies himself as a nurse, rushes to her side to help. Charles also goes over to Patricia to see if he can assist and announces that he’s a doctor. To everyone’s relief, Patricia ‘s seizure ends before she gets hurt.
Shortly after this incident, the manager tells the Capa family about a private beach area on the property that only a select number of resorts guests are invited to visit. He calls this beach a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” and a “natural anomaly.” The resort manager adds, “I only recommend it to certain people.” Guy and Prisca are curious and excited about this private beach, so they immediately say yes to this invitation.
The unnamed van driver who takes them to this private beach is portrayed by “Old” writer/director Shyamalan, who always casts an acting role for himself in his movies. (He’s a mediocre actor.) In addition to Guy, Prisca, Maddox and Trent, the other passengers in the van are Charles, Chrystal, Kara and Agnes.
The van driver has given them several baskets filled with free food for this trip. Charles says it’s unnecessary to take all this food with them to the beach, but the driver insists on it because he says that the kids will get hungry. When Charles asks the driver for help in carrying all these baskets of food to the beach, the driver says he can’t because he has to leave to go somewhere else that he’s needed for work.
When the two families arrive at this mystery beach, they see an African American man (played by Aaron Pierre), who’s in his late 20s, sitting by himself near the cliffs that surround the beach. He seems to be in a daze or in some kind of trance. Two of the new arrivals to the beach have very different reactions to this mystery man.
Maddox immediately recognizes him as a famous rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan. Not surprisingly, the adults have no idea who Mid-Sized Sedan is. Maddox is star-struck and wants to go over to Mid-Sized Sedan to meet him, but her father Guy says not to bother this celebrity who’s on vacation. Maddox is disappointed, but she follows her father’s request to respect Mid-Sized Sedan’s privacy.
Meanwhile, Charles suspiciously looks at this tall and athletic-looking African American man and immediately wants himself and his family to stay far away from this stranger. Mid-Sized Sedan eventually reveals his real name and family background, and it’s not what some people might expect to hear. Even though there’s no racist name-calling in this movie, there are several moments in the film where it’s obvious that Charles is prejudiced against black men.
When things go wrong, Charles immediately accuses Mid-Sized Sedan of being the perpetrator, and he ignores Mid-Sized Sedan’s protests of being innocent. And the animosity gets violent. Therefore, viewers who are triggered by Black Lives Matter issues might be triggered by some of the scenes in this movie. However, the way these issues are depicted in the movie just seems like Shyamalan’s cynical way of pandering to these issues.
Shyamalan isn’t subtle at all about the racial issues in this movie. Observant viewers will notice that the entire time that Mid-Sized Sedan is on the beach, he doesn’t age. It has something to do with the nose bleeds he has. Those nose bleeds eventually are explained in the movie. But the other reason why Mid-Sized Sedan doesn’t age is so that he can keep looking like the young, athletic black man who is treated like a dangerous threat by Charles.
Not long after the two families arrive on the beach, they are joined by married couple Patricia and Jarin, who say that they were invited to the beach and dropped off in the same manner as the other guests. Patricia is a psychologist, so she tries to uses a lot of therapy techniques when things start to go bonkers on this beach. Jarin tries to figure out scientific/medical ways to get out of their predicament. Jarin and Patricia are this trapped group’s only adults who attempt to use logic to try to escape.
Did we mention that there’s no cell phone reception? And when people on this beach try to leave, something bad happens, such as they feel a pounding pressure on their head, they pass out, and wake up on the beach again. And you can guess that happens if anyone tries to climb over those cliffs that surround the beach.
What the movie doesn’t explain (it’s one of many plot holes) is how this resort can deliberately trap guests on this beach without regard to the probability that these guests told other people that they were vacationing at this resort. There’s an offhand mention in the beginning of the movie about how Anamika Resort tells guests, soon after they arrive at the resort, to hand over their passports to the resort for “safekeeping.” That should be a big warning sign to guests, because no legitimate resort would do that, and no traveler with common sense would willingly let strangers keep the traveler’s passport.
But the passport confiscation doesn’t address another major issue: Eventually, the missing people would have others looking for them, and the resort would come under scrutiny for these disappearances. That reality is ignored because the “Old” filmmakers expect viewers to be as dumb as this movie.
It doesn’t take long for the visitors on this private beach to figure out that something else is very wrong with this beach: For every 30 minutes that they’re on the beach, the people age one year. Lots of panic, horribly written dialogue and unrealistic signs of aging then ensue.
However, a realistic moment of comedy happens when Mid-Sized Sedan makes a “black don’t crack” reference to how black people’s skin doesn’t as age as quicky as other people’s skin because of melanin. As the people on the beach panic over the horror that they’re aging rapidly, Mid-Sized Sedan gives a knowing look to Patricia (the other African American on the beach) and says: “It’s the first time they wish they were black.” Patricia replies in agreement: “Mmm-hmm.”
The actors who are adults when they get to the beach are played by the same actors as they age. But even though their faces show wrinkles over time (except for Mid-Sized Sedan, who doesn’t age), this movie is so sloppily made that the aging adults don’t get gray or white hair when the characters reach the ages when they should have gray or white hair. Keep in mind that there’s no hair dye on this beach.
The children are portrayed by different actors as these characters age. Maddox is shown as a teen/young adult, starting from age 16 (played by Thomasin McKenzie), and as a middle-aged adult (played by Embeth Davidtz). Trent is shown as an 11-year-old (played by Luca Faustino Rodriguez); as a teen/young adult, starting from age 15 (played by Alex Wolff); and as a middle-aged adult (played by Emun Elliott). Kara is shown as an 11-year-old (played by Mikaya Fisher) and as a 15-year-old (played by Eliza Scanlen). Trent and Kara have a quickie teen romance where something happens that will make viewers have divisive reactions.
Some of the actors seem to be cringing inside at the clumsy and stilted dialogue they have to say in this movie. Most of the cast members seem emotionally detached from their characters and just recite their frequently awful lines of dialogue, while others over-emote. It’s an awkward mix.
McKenzie is the only cast member who seems committed to realistically depicting her character’s feelings of confusion and angst over how rapidly her body is changing. It’s in subtle ways, such as her body language when Maddox covers up her breasts while wearing a bikini, because she hasn’t gotten used to having a body that’s reached puberty. While on the beach, all of the characters in “Old” who are parents make horrible decisions that make the parents look very irresponsible.
One of the biggest flaws in “Old” is that it does not adequately address how the children mature mentally and emotionally. When Trent’s body ages to 11 years old, the movie makes a point of saying that mentally, he’s still 6 years old. But then later in the movie, based on dialogue and actions, the children’s mental and emotional developments are supposed to match the ages of their bodies. There’s no explanation for this inconsistency.
When 11-year-old Maddox’s body turns into a 15-year-old’s body, her parents have a horrified reaction when they see her for the first time as a 15-year-old. Maddox is confused over why they’re reacting in this way. It’s because the movie wants viewers to believe that Maddox isn’t supposed to know right away that her body has changed.
However, Maddox wouldn’t need a mirror to see the changes to her body. All she would need to do is look down to see that grew breasts. And she would also sense that she got taller. But no, this movie wants viewers to forget all that common-sense logic and just accept whatever crappy plot fail is being thrown at them.
“Old” has some dubious merits of being so bad that it’s almost funny. There’s a subplot of Charles starting to go crazy on the beach. He starts rambling about random things, and the way his wild-eyed madness is depicted in the movie is unintentionally laughable because the acting is so over-the-top dreadful.
For example, Charles starts fixating on asking people to name the movie starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. Viewers won’t get the answer to the question while watching “Old.” But the name of the movie starring Brando and Nicholson is the 1976 Western drama “The Missouri Breaks.” It’s the only film that Nicholson and Brando ever did together. What does “The Missouri Breaks” have to do with “Old”? Absolutely nothing. It’s just one of many nonsensical things dropped into “Old.”
Throughout the movie, there are signs that these unlucky vacationers are being watched while they’re on the beach from hell. Therefore, when it’s revealed what’s going on and why they were chosen, it isn’t surprising at all. It’s downright anti-climactic and edited in a haphazard way. The big “reveal” at the end of “Old” is an idea that’s very similar to the reveal of another Shyamalan clunker movie, which won’t be named here because that would give away the ending of “Old.” You know a movie is bad when it rips off another unsurprising plot twist from another horrible movie that the same writer/director made years ago.
“Old” is also one of those movies that looks like it could’ve had three different endings, with none of them particularly inventive or unpredictable. Writer/director Shyamalan decided to cram all these ideas in the movie just to try to make “Old” look more clever than it really is. However the film ends, viewers should be glad when this monotonous mess of a movie is finally over.
Universal Pictures released “Old” in U.S. cinemas on July 23, 2021.