M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller is amazingly absurd

Jul 22, 2021
M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller is amazingly absurd

Running time: 108 minutes. Rated PG-13 (strong violence, disturbing images, suggestive content, partial nudity and brief strong language.) In theaters.

M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller, “Old,” is campy, poorly written, candy-colored and subtle as Eurovision.

I was glued to every single second of it.

Shyamalan’s films over the past several years have suffered from convoluted plotting, self-importance and overall tedium. Even some of his most digestible work, like the TV show “Wayward Pines,” peaked fast and then quickly trailed off.

But breaking the pattern, “Old” is pleasantly straightforward and has a tough-to-pin-down quality that has been missing from the “Sixth Sense” director’s recent work — confidence. “Old” can make whatever unhinged move it wants (and boy does it!) because the enjoyable film uncompromisingly commits to its insane reality.

That takes some cojones, for the setup is like “The Twilight Zone” on shrooms: A group of vacationers arrive at a secluded beach on a “remote, undeveloped island” where they begin to rapidly age. I could make a Florida joke here, but I’ll resist.

Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps play a couple who begin to mysteriously, rapidly age in the movie "Old."
Vacation, all I never wanted! Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps play a couple who begin to mysteriously, rapidly age in the movie “Old.”
©Universal/Courtesy Everett Col

“There’s a private beach on the nature preserve side,” says the mischievous hotel director. “I only recommend it to … certain guests.” Red flag! A driver (Shyamalan) drops them off with three huge coolers of food and says he’ll come back at 5 p.m.

Meet the island castaways of “Survivor”: there’s a couple (Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps) with two kids ages 6 and 11; a mean British doctor (Rufus Sewell) who’s married to a vain Malibu Barbie type (Abbey Lee), their little girl and her grandmother (Kathleen Chalfant); a rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre); and a kindly man (Ken Leung) and woman (Nikki Amuka-Bird) who are the only likable people here.

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Then things get weird. The kids suddenly look like teenagers and a woman drops dead. “It’s a virus!” mom says. Yes, one of those famous viruses that make you grow a foot taller in minutes.

Trent, played by Nolan River, doesn't stay little for long in "Old."
Trent, played by Nolan River, doesn’t stay little for long in “Old.”
©Universal/Courtesy Everett Col

Eventually our consortium of tropical geniuses figures out what’s going on: Every half hour, they are aging an entire year. So, they frantically set about trying to escape their fast approaching fate.

It’s a riot to watch the acting ensemble (a few of whom are switched for other actors because, well, age) put themselves in these preposterous situations. Particularly strong are Alex Wolff (also great in last week’s “Pig”) as the precocious 6-year-old boy in his biological teens and Lee (“Lovecraft Country”) as the blonde bombshell, who turns into a mix of a Real Housewife and Miss Havisham.

There are two fantastic sequences that are straight out of “Death Becomes Her” — one involves a surgery and the other, a series of broken limbs. They’re hilarious, disturbing and strangely riveting. College kids will love ’em.

Of course, Shyamalan’s films are famous for their twists (he was dead the whole time!) and you’re probably wondering if this has one of those crammed in. Yes and no. We find out what the beach is and why this group of people is there. It even brings up a relevant moral question in our ever-aging society. But “Old” doesn’t rely on a late revelation; it’s consistently well-paced and exciting.

Still, there will be two camps on this film: The group that has a good time and enjoys life, while the other can’t get drinks with you after work because they have to go watch “60 Minutes” with their cat. Yes, jerks, Shyamalan’s movie is kind of stupid. But so is growing old.

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Mary Dehart

Mary works as a part time technician for a popular technology firm and in her spare time, she contributes to the technology section of The Madison Leader Gazette with her impeccable knowledge of modern-day technology.