DirectorM. Night Shyamalan
Release Date(s)2021 (October 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Perfect World Pictures/Blinding Edge Pictures (Universal Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
M. Night Shyamalan has made a career of making movies that depend on a Big Reveal to explain all the preceding mysterious events, whether it’s the ability to see dead people (The Sixth Sense), the origin of mysterious crop circles (Signs), or the secrets of a small isolated community (The Village). They also have in common a palpable sense of foreboding.
Shyamalan’s latest is Old. Inspired by the graphic novel Sandcastle, it follows a group of guests at a fancy island beach resort. Guy and Prisca (Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps) are going through a rough time in their marriage and want to treat their two young children to a fun holiday before separating. A surgeon, Charles (Rufus Sewell), is there with his wife, Crystal (Abbey Lee), their young daughter, Kara (Kylie Begley), and his mother (Kathleen Chalfant). Completing the group are psychiatrist Patricia (Nikki Asuka-Bird) and nurse Jarin (Ken Leung).
On their second day, the vacationers are dropped off at a beautiful beach on the other side of the island, reachable only through a narrow path between massive rock formations. Relaxing and enjoying the scenery, sun and surf turns to something much less pleasant when a dead body floats by. Soon after, weird, unexplainable things begin to occur, and the three children become teenagers in a matter of hours (portrayed by different actors). They surmise that the island is exerting some kind of nefarious force and they must escape immediately. But their attempts to leave fail. If they try to go back the way they came in, they are mysteriously overcome, and the steep towering rock wall that abuts the beach is impossible to scale safely. They’re trapped, with time their enemy as it becomes evident that all of them are aging approximately one year every 30 minutes.
Shyamalan creates an abundance of suspense in the first part of the film that gradually transitions from tropical island idyll to waking nightmare. He takes horror movie cliches and turn them upside down. The beach is bright and beautiful. Most of the action takes place during sun-drenched daytime. With no dark basements, creepy houses, stalking serial killers, or monsters, he achieves an original perspective on how the commonplace can turn into the unknown, with frightening ramifications.
Old keeps us wondering and guessing. We know that Shyamalan will eventually let us in on the secret of why the people on this beach are aging, why these particular individuals have been singled out, and who is behind it all, and we remain intrigued. But when we finally learn the why’s and what’s and how’s of this mystery, the big reveal is a disappointment. The director lays out a detailed explanation with dialogue and accompanying visuals but it doesn’t hit us with a bang, as it did in The Sixth Sense. Rather, we react with a shrug.
It’s difficult to come up with an original concept for a horror thriller. John Krasinski did it in 2018 in A Quiet Place with monsters that were drawn to people by sound. Shyamalan also uses a new concept and he holds us with the gradual, creepy happenings. The isolated location draws on a horror staple—claustrophobia—but with a twist. Though the group of resort guests are outdoors, they are nonetheless trapped. Too bad the resolution is less than satisfying.
Featuring 1080p resolution, Old is presented on Blu-ray in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2:39:1. The visual quality is outstanding with excellent clarity and color reproduction. Since most of the film takes place on a tropical beach during the day, we see sun-drenched sand, vivid blue ocean water, and a nearly cloudless sky. The rich, deep green of the trees that tower over the sand offers contrast to the expanse of light-colored sand. Detail is especially good in the rock formations that imprison the group. Facial details, such as stubble on the men, sweat, and wrinkles, are well delineated. Blacks are deep and velvety. A night scene on the beach is lit primarily by a fire, providing a warm atmosphere with eerie undertones. The overall quality is sharp, offering a pleasant viewing experience.
The soundtrack is English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible). Alternate audio track options include Spanish 7.1 Dolby Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Audio, and English DVS (Descriptive Video Service). Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout. A key background sound is the ocean waves lapping on the shore, heard throughout at varying volumes. The early scenes, when the characters arrive at the resort, contain typical ambient sounds of a hotel—the hum of people talking and incidental lobby noise.
Bonus materials on the 2-Disc PG-13-rated Blu-ray release include several deleted scenes and four brief behind-the-scenes featurettes. A Digital code on a paper insert is included in the packaging.
Deleted Scenes – Ten brief scenes eliminated from the theatrical release are included:
- Cold Open (:49)
- Maddox Overlooked (:45)
- Guy and Prisca Have a Moment (:19)
- Spa Options (:30)
- Trent’s Trunks (1:09)
- Mirror Mirror (:40)
- Despair (:56)
- Maybe They’re on Their Way? (1:01)
- Patricia’s Loss (1:33)
- Birthday Party (:43)
Shyamalan Family Business (8:05) – Old is a film about children growing up fast. Two of M. Night Shyamalan’s daughters were involved in the making of the film. One served as second unit director and had several creative conversations with her father during production. The director is referred to as “super close” to his daughters. The other daughter, a singer/songwriter, wrote a song that a character sings. The film was intertwined with the Shyamalan’s lives. The kids in the film are reflective of the director’s own children. Father and daughters all speak proudly of one another.
All the Beach Is a Stage (9:37) – Shyamalan, who was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, is methodical in his preparation. Not only did he write the script, he also designed storyboards to visualize exactly how he wanted the scenes to look. “The outlines of the picture are clear.” The actors fill in that space. Shyamalan appreciates what actors bring to a scene and the actors feel supported by him. In planning the film, Shyamalan tried to imagine the worst things and figure out how he would “come out on the other side.” He likes to use angular roaming movements of the camera. A shot that revolves around a group of characters randomly records them.
Nightmares in Paradise (7:27) – The location search led to the Dominican Republic. The shooting location had to be a beach with a rock wall that could look like a tropical paradise and then evolve into the film’s villain. The setting changes from something beautiful to something oppressive. There was no room for error because of a tight shooting schedule. Preparation took one year. Filming took place during hurricane season and COVID. A wall was built, a hurricane destroyed it, and it was rebuilt. Filming had to proceed in accordance with the tides. The island contained many stray dogs. Some were adopted and taken home by crew members.
A Family in the Moment (6:18) – A night scene filmed on the beach was emotional for the cast. The four actors playing the first family we see bonded and felt the trials their characters had been through. “That night was very tender.” The scene reflected the characters’ vulnerability. Shyamalan was aiming to be truthful in the scene. He’s seen speaking with the crew after 27 days of filming. He refers to the location as “a magical beach.”
Old starts with an interesting idea but Shyamalan writes himself into a corner, not knowing how to resolve it with an ending that lives up to the build-up. The director had a jaw-dropping revelation in The Sixth Sense and has tried unsuccessfully over the years to top it. Critics and audiences have high expectations that have simply not been met in Old.
- Dennis Seuling