Review: Old (2021)

Director/Screenwriter: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie
Genres: Drama, Horror, Thriller
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Release Date: 7/23/21
Runtime: 1h 48min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 51%
Where to Watch: Theatres

I must confess that I am not necessarily a huge M. Night Shyamalan, having only seen a handful of his movies — including SplitSigns, and The Sixth Sense (apparently all “S’ titles), all of which I enjoyed. He’s the kind of filmmaker who has his own style and sensibility that not everyone likes, and that doesn’t work nearly every time. I believe the last of his films I saw was Split, which I very much enjoyed and which achieved widespread acclaim (albeit mainly for star James McAvoy), and missed the follow-up film, Glass, which was not well-liked/received. I was intrigued to see the trailer for his latest, Old, as I have a sort of fascination with films involving aging/de-aging, such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I didn’t necessarily care (or mind) that the movie is supposedly based on a graphic novel, as those aren’t things that typically interest me. I was interested to see why these people on this mysterious beach were aging rapidly, and to see how Shyamalan’s filmmaking techniques came into play.

The trailer, unfortunately, gives away much of the excitement and intrigue of the Old, so it’d almost be better to go into it completely or nearly fully blind. (These days, it seems like trailers give you so much information that it makes the movie-going experience much less than enjoyable than it would be otherwise).  As such, the majority of the big moments in the film are already in the trailer, with the exception of some interesting twists towards the end. The narrative is uneven and disjointed at times, and some scenes and moments appear repetitive and unnecessary; Shyamalan probably could’ve trimmed it down to a tight 90 minutes.  hat’s not to say that I was ever bored or uninterested, as the story is quite compelling and the pace is deliberate and (mostly) fits the narrative. There were, undoubtedly, some instances in which the tone was supposed to be serious and/or tense, but it came across as slightly humorous; Shyamalan often likes to inject comic relief into his films, but it doesn’t always work in Old — and I’m guessing that there are times when he’s not expecting laughter. Maybe that’s because he is almost taking things too seriously, although considering the fact that the plot involves rapid aging and a lot of death, this is not surprising. 

Shyamalan’s script takes its time in introducing the various characters, all of whom have their own issues, and are sometimes presented in stereotypical manners. I wished that all of the characters were given more depth and background without exposition dumps (which aren’t too numerous here, thankfully), but considering how many there are, I can let this slide. You get a sense of the relationships between certain people through their interactions and also through the actors’ performance, most of which are quite strong. There’s no true weak link who comes to mind, even among the younger cast members. It’s especially impressive to see how spot-on the casting is for the child characters who age throughout the film, and the CGI aging techniques are convincing enough without appearing hokey.

Just about every actor gets the chance to shine, even if their characters aren’t fully developed. The stand-outs were Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, and Alex Wolff. Bernal and Krieps are believable enough as the doting (but troubled) parents to two children (who soon become adults), and I was especially happy to see Phantom Thread‘s Krieps given an interesting role, even if a lot of what she does is stare, albeit convincingly. Even though Wolff’s screen time is fairly minimal, he makes the best of it; after his terrific work in Hereditary a few years ago, it’s great to see him in another interesting role. Others, like Thomasin McKenzie (so good in Jojo Rabbit), Rufus Sewell (The Father), Eliza Scanlen (Little Women), and Ken Leung (Lost), have some big moments that play out interestingly, although it’s hard to give everyone equal screen time.

Old certainly isn’t a perfect film — for one, I was confounded as to choices behind some of the cinematography and random close-ups — but I found it to be rather entertaining and unique, and a solid entry in M. Night Shyamalan film catalogue.