People learn to be present in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old” about as well as they learn to be superheroes.
So if there was anyone who still held out hope that Shyamalan would emulate that movie magic we so badly missed in “The Visit,” prepare for the same old patterns that have become as reliable as any Hollywood franchise. Laughably robotic dialogue? Check. Interesting premise that isn’t explored in any enjoyable way? Check. A cameo by Shyamalan himself? Check. And last but not least, a twist? How could it not be?
At least the familiar beginning leads to a place no one could have guessed without the marketing. Prisca (Vicky Krieps, already eons away from “Phantom Thread”) and Guy (Gael García Bernal) are a married couple on the verge of separating when they arrive at a resort for one last family holiday with their children, 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and six-year-old Trent (Nolan River). But goddamn it, they’re going to maintain that oh so sacred family unit and grow old together by force! And it’s all thanks to finding themselves at a beach so remote even wifi is an impossibility. Annoying to be sure, but it quickly becomes a much bigger problem since the location ages them at a rapid rate and any attempt to depart quickly proves futile.
The possibilities to be explored about life, love, and aging are infinite, but “Old” would rather preach horror movie morality as it espouses our worst fears. And they’re about far more than our obsession with youth, packing in some xenophobia of the foreign other both in terms of location, and most puzzlingly, the characters. I suppose it’s a perverse kind of accomplishment to stack a cast with people of color and still manage to be racist, but every attempt to address racism goes about as well as a Q&A with Ana Lily Amirpour.
Before you think it can’t be that bad, there’s a rapper whose main job is to say shit like “oh dang,” and whose name is – just remember, you were warned – Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre). You did not misread that, and his big secret is that he came from a solidly middle class family. Then there’s Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), a Black woman whose epilepsy is both her defining characteristic, and more predictably, a source of grotesque body horror.
Under such circumstances, Shyamalan’s attempts to critique intolerance can only come off as laughable, especially since it even gives us a TROT (Rufus Sewell) for us all to despise who is revealed to be a caricature of an entitled white man. He’s even saddled with a hot blonde wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), a composite of everything you despise about influencer culture, and is grotesquely punished for her vanity in a fashion right out of “Suspiria.” Or maybe she’s punished like every female character here because…sex.
Believe it or not, that brings us to the kids, who age rapidly from young children to teens and beyond as they are quickly sexualized the instant their aging process goes beyond cuteness. It’s a tragic waste of talent that includes Eliza Scanlen, Thomasin McKenzie, and Alex Wolff, especially since they’re forced to care for their now rapidly aging parents. By the time the twist came, everything seemed past its goddamn expiration date, and I could only ponder an ancient question that seems to have no answer: why is Shyamalan still allowed to do shit like this? If anyone could explain that, I’d see that movie.