Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Stars: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Nikkia Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, Eliza Scanlen, Kathleen Chalfont, Aaron Pierre, Gustaf Hammasten, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliott, Alexa Swinton, Francesca Eastwood, Nolan River, Luca Faustino Rodriguez.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the beach!
The latest film from writer/director M Night Shyamlan (The Sixth Sense, etc) is another headscratcher of a psychological thriller that mixes supernatural elements with a unique touch of body horror, with the usual twist ending that has become something of a trademark for the auteur. Old is based on Sandcastle, a graphic novel written by Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters, and is largely shaped by an intriguing premise and explores existential themes of family, the fear of aging, the passing of time, grief, regrets, science and nature.
The Cappa family are heading for a holiday at a luxurious beachside resort that they found on the internet. But there are already cracks in the relationship between Prisca (Vicky Krieps, from Phantom Thread, etc) and her husband Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal, recently seen in Ema, etc). They are planning to split up after the holiday, a secret that they have kept from their two children – 11-year-old Maddox and 6-year-old Trent. The hotel manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) arranges for them to spend the day time on a secluded beach, a special treat that he only offers to select guests. The beach itself is secluded, surrounded by high steep cliffs and accessible only though caves.
The Cappas are accompanied by several other guests – Charles (Rufus Sewell) a doctor with a quick temper and a volatile nature, and his younger trophy wife Chyrstal (Abbey lee) who is obsessed with her body and her looks, and their young daughter Kara (Eliza Scanlen) and his aging mother (Kathleen Chalfont); Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), a psychologist who suffers from epileptic fits, and her writer husband Jarin (Ken Leung, from the tv series Lost, etc). Already on the beach is a rapper named “Mid Sized Sedan” (Aaron Pierre) who suffers from nosebleeds. When a body washes up on shore it is the trigger for some spooky and unsettling events.
Tempers flare between the adults over what to do, but whenever they try to leave the beach via the labyrinthine series of caves through which they arrived they experience a blackout and mysteriously end up back on the beach. Then the children seem to begin to age rather rapidly quickly turning into adults, while the adults themselves slowly move into their twilight years. One character experiences a rapidly growing tumour that is cut out on the beach. The adults are also gripped by a sense of paranoia as they realise that if they don’t find a way off the beach they will be dead before morning.
Thankfully Shyamalan keeps the gore to a minimum.
Even though much of the action takes place on the pristine beach there is still a palpable claustrophobic feel to the material. Shyamalan deftly keeps audiences off balance for much of the film. The artificial nature of Shyamalan’s construction is also a little unnerving and much of the dialogue is delivered in a forced and stilted fashion that makes it all seem unreal.
The film has been shot on location in the Dominican Republic, and there is some nice cinematography from Mike Gioulakis (who also shot Shyamalan’s previous thrillers Glass and Split) that captures the picturesque location, but his use of unusual camera angles also gives the material a nicely eerie and unsettling vibe. There is an ominous score from Trevor Gureckis and a soundscape of crashing waves that also adds to the oppressive mood of dread.
The performances are something of a mixed bag and we don’t really get to empathise with most of the characters. Sewell does well as the creepy and sinister doctor who grows more unhinged and dangerous as events spiral out of control. The children are played by different actors at various ages, but the teenaged Maddox is played by Thomasin McKenzie (from Leave No Trace, etc), while the teenaged Trent is played by Alex Wolff (from the horror film Hereditary, etc) and they do a good job of conveying their confusion and terror.
However, as is usual with most of Shyamalan’s films, the ending and the final revelation is a bit of a disappointment. The ending, with its exposition of what is really happening behind the scenes of the resort, seems a bit rushed and may frustrate those looking for a more detailed explanation.