Here we go. M. Night Shyamalan’s at it again. This time, it’s not the trees that are killing people (or making people kill themselves to be more specific, as trees haven’t evolved hands to hold knives or guns with), or an alien threat, or any of the other baddies in his previous films. It’s a deadly beach. A beach that makes you…Old.
I mean, I can relate. Every time I go to the beach, I feel like I’m gonna be there till I die. There’s sand, sun and/or wind, sand, rowdy kids, sand, gulls trying to steal your lunch, sand, gross seaweed, sand, jagged shells digging into your feet on your way into the salty stinky sea, and sand. I mean, that stuff gets everywhere. Two kinds of people go to the beach: those who know it sucks, and those who pretend it doesn’t suck for the sake of pleasing no one.
In addition to the regular beach reasons, the beach in Old sucks because it makes you age at a ridiculously rapid rate. Like one hour equals two years of your life. Why? Well, the characters will spend a lot of time speculating as to why this is happening but they don’t really know. No one does. What they do know, especially after a couple of them die trying, is that there’s no way off this beach.
The aging is more visible in the kids, who are ages 5,6, and 11 (as far as we know), because their bodies undergo more drastic visual changes, y’know, with puberty and adolescence and all. They try to address the fact that growing kids need tons of food (they’re supplied with a huge basket of what appears to be astronaut food? Freeze-dried pasta just add water? Whatever. They’d need more than one basket of food to survive, but then surviving was never the endgame for the folks running this “resort.”), but apparently the adults don’t need to eat at all even though they are aging at the same rate. An hour without food is equivalent to two years without food? That’s a hell of a hunger strike, but nobody withers away and drops dead. Why? Even the characters with all their clunky dialogue can’t figure that one out.
The script? Hoo boy. It comes across like the parts of the screenplay that you’re not supposed to read out loud. “We are on the beach.” “The dead dog was just alive a minute ago.” “I’m going to ask everyone in sight what their names and occupations are.” You’ve heard of “show, don’t tell?” Well, M. introduces us to “show them telling.” The characters spend so much time trying to dumb down this already dumb movie. For every “why” that the screenwriter (Shyamalan, of course) answers, five more questions take its place. After a while you simply don’t care anymore why all this sh*t is happening, you just want everyone to be more interesting. And less face-punchable.
Now, the idea that there’s an area on planet Earth that ages people two years for every hour of real time, is a dope idea. It’s a great concept that a writer and director can run with and have a ghoulishly fun time. That writer and director need to be competent though, especially if they are the same person. There are scenes that, if there were better actors saying better lines, could have been downright chilling. Some of the death scenes could have been gruesome (even for a PG-13 money grab) and horrifying, if they weren’t surrounded by so much overripe cinematic cheese.
I’m a writer myself. I know all too well the whimsy a writer feels when they get that kernel of an idea: “Hey, what if there was a place that made you old?” Yeah, that’s interesting, but it’s not a story until that kernel pops. And it ain’t gonna pop unless the plot oil and script heat are sufficient and now I want popcorn. But hang on, it’s not even an original idea of Shyamalan’s; he got the story from a French graphic novel titled Sandcastle. The novel has a pretty dismal ending, while Old goes for the Hollywood ending. Several endings, actually. There are no guns with perfect aim and unlimited ammo, but there are matches that stay lit and people who can hold their breath underwater longer than David Blaine.
Pretty much the only thing they nailed with this movie was the casting of the two main kids. As they age they are, of course, played by different actors, and even if it was dumb luck, it works brilliantly.
Nothing else works, though.
Is Old so bad it’s good? Both my wife and I had fun watching it and picking it apart while laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all (“Go in groups of two in case you black out.” Why, so you can black out together?). It’s on HBO Max, so if you have that, dial it up when you have nothing better to do. One and a half out of five stars.