Hot Shyamalan Summer is here with Old, a dizzying, often nightmarish reminder of our own mortality – in all its grace, madness and horror.
Around 20 years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio stepped onto the ethereal sands of his prime in The Beach. His arrival, tuned to Moby’s Porcelain, is the closest I’ve felt to genuine cinematic peace.
Old‘s shores aren’t pure; they’re perishable, mystifying and cruel, with thumping drums, crashing waves and the constant stench of death in the air, like the reaper’s haven. (Un)luckily, we’re all going on a summer holiday with M. Night; plenty of worries for me and you, for a life or two.
Three years after his Eastrail 177 conclusion with Glass – we shan’t speak of it – today’s twistiest filmmaker is back. Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle, it’s a simple premise that taps into a universal fear: two families take a trip to a gorgeous cove where people age over the course of a single day, leaving rot and bones in their wake.
It’s a star-studded cast, the exact nature of their roles I won’t necessarily reveal: Gael Garcia Bernal; Vicky Krieps; Thomasin McKenzie; Alex Wolff; Eliza Scanlen; Embeth Davidtz (yes, Miss Honey!); Rufus Sewell; and Abbey Lee Kershaw, among others. Of course, M. Night also makes an appearance.
The younger members of the ensemble are tasked with the hardest work, which they pull off with aplomb. McKenzie, a prodigy destined for the heights after Leave No Trace and Jojo Rabbit, and Hereditary’s Wolff handle delicate complexities in their performances that could have so easily folded into off-putting, gimmicky melodrama. Scanlen is similarly impressive, with one scene leaving me shattered in disbelief and another cowering from Midsommar skies.
Krieps and Bernal’s characters are less showy, though the Phantom Thread star is a compelling actor. Middling, occasionally clunky writing keeps them from making a big impression, while Sewell’s expertise as a first-class bellend is hampered slightly by rough plotting and the hammering of a ‘bit’ that never really connects, kind of like Vince Vaughn constantly uttering ‘anchovies’ in Dragged Across Concrete.
While it may not be the finest display of Shyamalan’s penmanship, his craft is on fire: split-dioptres here, there and everywhere; tracking shots across reflections; disorientating, unpredictable camerawork with his DP Mike Gioulakis; and evoking an almost-permanent feeling of unease from the opening minutes, leaving you just as breathless, dazed and confused as every escapee beachgoer.
Split may not be the finest entry in his filmography, but its DNA is evident in Old’s body horror. Not Cronenbergian, but shifty and a little (or a lot) gross – I’m still not quite over one moment inside a match-lit cave. It’s one thing for a film to revolve around the inevitability of death, it’s another to make audiences feel physically uncomfortable, whether it’s popping, locking limbs or the simple clanking of blanket-wrapped bones.
After all that, the ending will likely be divisive – for me, it doesn’t stick the landing. But hitting cinemas under the mid-year sun, coming after a year-and-a-half of misery, there’s something audacious about a film so focused on our feeble corporality.
Old is vintage Shyamalan, in sickness, health and everything in-between. Like Ferris said, life moves pretty fast.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]