Old - movie review
M. Night Shyamalan's latest is an exercise in patience.
**NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.**
I haven't seen a "horror" movie in a long time that's made me feel like I've aged while watching it, but ironically, M. Night Shyamalan's "Old" (based on the graphic novel Sand Castle) managed to do the trick. Just like the characters in the film, who mysteriously and rapidly age when visiting a secret beach, I felt each minute go by and wished for the vigor I had when first entering the theatre.
To call this a horror movie is a bit of a misnomer: while there are some tense moments, there is only one truly scary (and bizarre) scene; Perhaps to keep it from being R rated (poor excuse, if so), everything that could potentially be gory happens just out of the camera's eye, or through some trick of photography. When a skeleton is discovered, rather than the viewer being able to see it, the camera is placed inside its rib cage looking out at the characters looking in. Shyamalan loves playing with angles and distance, and while this is a clever play, several other moments, like the fall from a cliff, lose their terrifying impact because we don't see, or even hear, it happen.
Indeed, the true horror of the movie lies in the enigma of why all the characters get old so quickly. But the aging process is lopsided; the two children age the fastest, explained how differences are noticed more as children grow up, versus adults, but one kid seems to age faster than his sister. Meanwhile, the character played by Gabriel Garcia Bernal develops wrinkles and grey hair, but Rufus Sewell's does not change one iota. Therefore, the central conceit, that you age 2 years every hour (figured out through some wonky math), does not hold much tension for anyone, the viewer especially. It's no spoiler to say that some of the characters die, but when they do, they don't look nearly old enough, and their sudden demise is borderline comical.
It's hard to comprehend how Shyamalan, who has such rich plot ideas (seeing dead people! a village terrorized by monsters! aliens!) can be such a terrible writer of dialogue. Part of the effect is to make the viewer say, "That's...weird," but it only goes so far; no six-year old talks the way that Trent does, and the grandiose statements made by his mother Prisca feel more akin to a soap opera than a mainstream thriller. There are also plenty of lines that baffle the viewer because there's no rhyme or reason to them; Sewell's character, in a schizophrenic fit, keeps talking about a Jack Nicholson movie.
True to Shyamalan's reputation, the film does contain a twist ending, I guess, but it only raises more questions than it answers. The auteur has painted himself into a corner where his penchant for surprise final acts means he can't make a movie anymore without one, and when he does, it often does not succeed (see After Earth as an example). Like his Signs, he gives his characters an out, but it's much too convenient, nor is there any explanation WHY the escape route from the killer beach works. I admire the somewhat political statement Shyamalan makes with the ending, about greed of pharmaceutical companies, but why, if the mad scientists are only testing one person as part of this aging beach study, do all these others need to be involved?
Shyamalan's latest yarn is a ball of tangles, and like the beach itself, confusing, frustrating, and ultimately, a bad trip.
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