by Rob DiCristino
Minor spoilers about Old’s ending ahead.
It’s hard to really argue with M. Night Shyamalan, you know? In the twenty-plus years since The Sixth Sense, the writer/director once heralded as “The Next Spielberg” has run the gamut of critical and commercial success, devolving through bold and imaginative thrillers (Unbreakable), bizarre, hubristic flops (The Happening), soulless franchise fare (After Earth), and then back again, finding his creative balance in recent years with mid-budget horror entries like Split. It’s the natural evolution of any creative life — hell, any human life, in general. Trial and error. Risk and reward. Though we may no longer trust Shyamalan to deliver the powerful, audience-pleasing blockbusters of years gone by, most movie lovers at least applaud his ambition, his unrelenting urge to create. It’s the fire that burns within Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, in Christopher Nolan and Spike Lee. They love movies and need to make them. In a culture dominated by IP, M. Night Shyamalan will always deserve — at the very least — our skeptical attention.
We’re then treated to perhaps Shyamalan’s most surreal, expressionistic work yet. By restricting his setting to this small beach (even The Village had more scope), the director relies on Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography to create depth, mood, and often a bit of narrative pacing, with new “versions” of the children being introduced to the audience through off-center framing, staccato edits, and extended takes that whip in 360-degree arcs from one character to another. The film’s visual language evolves as the characters’ mania increases — at times, the camera seems to be holding back from showing us something we very much want to see. Maybe it’s afraid? Maybe the film’s PG-13 rating precludes it from getting too graphic? Either way, Old employs a dizzying visual aesthetic that — though it pains me to say — may benefit from the big-screen treatment. There’s not much to Old’s plot, and not a ton of it makes any sense, and so much like its beach-horror sister film, The Shallows, it may be best to just let Old wash over you.The Irishman), but that connection is even more difficult when those characters feel nothing like themselves from beat to beat. An adult Kara, for example, gets pregnant, gives birth, and loses her child in the span of minutes, a development never commented on in subsequent scenes. In a middle bit, Charles operates on Priscia, removing a tumor the size of a cantaloupe from her torso. That tumor provided early tension between Priscia and her husband, but it’s forgotten soon after the wound miraculously closes. Perhaps Shyamalan is commenting on the impermanence of time here. Perhaps he’s lamenting the ravages of age and insisting that the squabbles that crush relationships fade when looking at life’s big picture.