'Old' director M. Night Shyamalan on making horror from our fear of aging

Entertainment

Yahoo Entertainment 22 July, 2021 - 10:00am 7 views

In the two decades since The Sixth Sense made him a household name, Shyamalan hasn’t much improved at writing dialogue. His characters still speak a stilted language of blunt emotional declaration and corny one-liners, periodically sounding like aliens approximating human interaction. But in Old, the anti-naturalistic clang of the exchanges eventually starts to contribute to the general nightmare vibe of Shyamalan’s scenario. At the manager’s suggestion, the family ends up decamping for a private swim on the other end of the island, joining a small group of fellow guests that includes a racist surgeon (Rufus Sewell), his bombshell wife (Abbey Lee), their grade-school-aged daughter (Kylie Begley), a SoundCloud rapper (Aaron Pierre), and a few others. “Something is going on with time on this beach,” one of them dimly, belatedly deduces, long after the adults start collecting wrinkles and their children start racing towards puberty at world-record speed.

This is about as close to pure allegory as Shyamalan has ever strayed. His wizening beach is nothing less than life itself as a physical space, with every milestone and humiliation of the aging process crammed into a single, dreadfully condensed day. Symbolic though this premise may be, the film devises several visceral, diabolical dilemmas from it: An emergency surgery is complicated by the fact that wounds close up in a matter of seconds, while the onset of dementia is horrifically accelerated, a running gag about a movie a character can’t remember curdling fast into pure hostile confusion. The film’s centerpiece sequence, shot in a queasy long take that whips back and forth across the sand, grotesquely exaggerates the ordinary mindfuck of parents passing down the torch of parenthood. With Old, Shyamalan puts a fantastic spin on the subjective brevity of youth; in this case, it doesn’t just seem like only yesterday that the kids were just kids. But he also generously acknowledges the cognitive dissonance of growing up, too—a child’s own shock at the new “colors,” as Maddox puts it, blooming in their brain.

In a Shyamalan movie, goofiness is always waiting at the gates, threatening to overthrow the scares. Depending on who you ask, this is a great flaw of his work or part of its idiosyncratic charm. Either way, there are times when Old’s defenses are breached; a bit of body horror involving dislocated bones borders on absurdist slapstick, perhaps on purpose. Less forgivably, the film’s final passage is too tidy, in a plainly Hollywood manner. It lacks the more haunting fatalism of the original comic, which knew that there’s only one sensible way for this story to end. Still, the power of the conceit lingers, somehow reinforced by the impression that Shyamalan, a middle-aged man with three daughters, is exorcising his own fears, though of course they’re ours and indeed everyone else’s, too. Old doesn’t just reconfirm his talent for sending a chill down the collective spine of the moviegoing public. It also proves this wizardry multiplex craftsman knows a thing or two about the human condition, even as the basics of human conversation continue to elude him.

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Old Review

IGN 22 July, 2021 - 03:02pm

M. Night Shyamalan's Old, which tackles the distinct horrors of aging, ends up being a fascinating entry to the director's spotty career. It may not be his greatest work, but it is one that uses an intriguing premise to tackle profound ideas — ones that probably won’t easily fade away, even when you’re old and gray.

Old follows mother and father Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (a gripping Vicky Krieps) and their two children — the six-year-old Trent (Nolan River) and 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton) — as they venture to a scenic island for a relaxing vacation. Like other Shyamalan films, Old pits nature against humans, and there’s a reason why that’s a tried and true method: it works. The picturesque seaside provides a stark contrast to both the family’s brewing drama and the grim supernatural happenings that start to unfold as people start aging rapidly. All the while, two families are trapped on the beach, surrounded by two natural barriers, effectively eliciting thrills and instilling a sense of dread and hopelessness.

A veteran cast makes much of Old an eye-gluing watch. Each actor must play not just their age, but the age they’ve just transitioned from and the one they're heading towards, sometimes all at once. Take Eliza Scanlen and Alex Wolff, for instance; they’re playing teens experiencing rampant hormones, yet they still think like six-year-olds. It’s a tricky balance to strike – and yet the cast walks that line with aplomb from top to bottom.

Old, adapted from Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederick Peeters’ graphic novel Sandcastle, is at its best when it’s using the impending threat of death from what would normally be natural causes for scares. It takes real medical issues like dementia, cancer, blindness, and deafness and represents them through sharp sound mixing, capturing the anxieties felt when we notice the ways in which our bodies are breaking down over decades. These premature ailments lead to some gnarly instances of body horror, some of them subtle and some of them gruesomely bone-crunching.

Sometimes, cinematographer Mike Gioluakis discovers creative ways to express those horrors in detail, such as a fractured close-up of the deep lines tracing a character’s face. Even in these close-ups, the aging special effects and makeup hold up, never devolving into a hammy artifice. At other points, though, the camerawork isn’t quite as effective: it will sometimes sway from central characters to a blank vantage point capturing the horizon, which really only serves to undercut a real loss happening on screen.

The other way that Old undermines itself is with its dialogue. Unlike the impenetrable beach entrapping the characters, this plot is far from incomprehensible. In fact, the overabundant and often stiff conversations readily hand over the answers to what should be the most confounding mysteries rather than asking us to connect the dots ourselves. It’s as though Shyamalan is so self-conscious of his reputation for twist endings that go over some people’s heads that he works overtime to diffuse the twists before they explode. The strategy can make Old a frustrating watch.

Still, there was never a moment where the slow-burn confrontation with mortality wasn’t completely enthralling. The message that we should remain young at heart and quickly move past petty squabbles and empty signifiers of status is a powerful pull. In that regard, Old might be Shyamalan’s most humanist film. It’s less concerned with the puzzles themselves and more with the people running within the mazes. By the end, we’re not meant to care about the mystery or the clues that don’t align. Instead, the overriding thought is to live as though there’s no tomorrow.

‘Old’ Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Latest Thriller Doesn’t Age Well

IndieWire 22 July, 2021 - 03:02pm

@davidehrlich

Life is quite literally a beach in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old,” a go-for-broke “Twilight Zone” riff about a family who find themselves trapped in a sandy enclave where time passes so fast that a six-year-old in the morning will go through puberty by lunch, and a grandmother in the first act has almost no chance of being around for the third. Borrowed from the 2010 graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, it’s the sort of unsettling idea that can trigger a wave of existential anxieties (and/or parental ones, which are often the same thing) just by thinking about it.

And yet Shyamalan’s very silly new movie — his best since “The Village,” but still a pale imitation of the slow-burn psychological thrillers that once earned him modern history’s most iconic Newsweek cover — isn’t nearly as fraught-provoking as its nature would suggest. Rather than allow this story to unfold at the real-time pace that its premise demands, Shyamalan opts instead for a hurried (if impressively perverse) series of cheap thrills that emphasize the body horror of aging over the more profound terror of feeling the years pass by.

The result is a silly, well-acted piece of schlock that offers a decent time at the movies instead of the awful one that it promised us. And while there’s obviously some fun to be had in a film where “The Neon Demon” star Abbey Lee plays a trophy wife who goes full “Kuroneko” (complete with a billowing hooded kimono) on a bunch of teens because she gets a few wrinkles, Shyamalan’s latest — like virtually everyone in it — gets old fast.

Subtlety has never been one of Shyamalan’s gifts, but “Old” is so obvious that even Rod Serling would probably tell M. Night to dial it back a bit. We meet the bickering Capa family as they arrive at the tropical resort that mom Prisca found on the internet one day (she’s played by Vicky Krieps, who sets the tone for a movie in which every member of the cast is wonderfully overqualified), and the snippy conversation they have in the van makes it hard to believe that such ostensibly smart people could be stupid enough not to realize they’re in a campy horror movie.

Every single line of dialogue is the Shyamalan equivalent of a slasher victim announcing that they’re just gonna lose their virginity in the spooky garage real quick, but they’ll definitely be right back after that. “You have such a beautiful voice,” Guy Capa (Gael García Bernal) tells his pre-teen daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton), “I can’t wait to hear it when you’re older.” A beat later, he turns to his younger child Trent (Nolan River) and regretfully informs him that he’s too young to scuba. For his part, Trent is a hyper-loquacious adult man trapped in a six-year-old’s body; he sizes up his weary mother and declares, “The spontaneity has been stripped from her.”

It would be a funnier bit if not for the fact that all of Shyamalan’s characters talk as if they’ve been abducted by aliens, a feeling that’s only enhanced by this film’s clinical framing and zoological sense of remove. “You’re always thinking about the future!” Prisca snarls at her actuary husband as soon as they get a moment alone inside of their glass villa. “You’re always thinking about the past!” Guy snaps back at his museum curator wife. “You work in a god damn museum!” Listen closely, and you can all but hear the aliens excitedly scribbling away in their notes.

Okay, maybe aliens aren’t to blame for this one. After all, it’s Shyamalan himself — once again cameoing as the instrument of his characters’ suffering — who drives the Capa family to the special private beach where they’ll get to spend the day with just a small handful of other lucky resort guests. And never let it be said that Shyamalan doesn’t have a gift for creating memorably bizarre redshirts, most of whom are so wooden and broadly sketched that it’s more believable to hear them compare notes about the temporal properties of the beach’s rock wall than it would be to watch them buy groceries.

Half the fun of “Old” comes from seeing world-class actors try to wiggle out of Shyamalan’s writing like straitjacketed musicians in an underwater vault. British smarm machine Rufus Sewell has the time of his life as a cardiothoracic surgeon whose mental health deteriorates faster than his body, and it’s worth the price of admission just to witness the character’s strange fixation on a certain Marlon Brando movie (especially because it’s definitely not the one you’d guess). “The Neon Demon” star Abbey Lee makes a meal out of Sewell’s young trophy wife. Aaron Pierre, in a wild change of pace from his earth-shaking lead performance in “The Underground Railroad,” shows off his versatility in the role of an emotionally grounded rapper called Mid-Sized Sedan (Shyamalan is just raining threes with that one). Neither the great Ken Leung nor Nikki Amuka-Bird get quite as much to do in their roles as a kindly nurse and his seizure-prone wife, but they manage to find the integrity of every scene they’re in even when Shyamalan doesn’t seem to know where it went.

For all of its clumsiness, however, there’s no doubt that “Old” is supposed to be funny, even if Shyamalan reliably earns more laughs from our discomfort than he does from his own zingers. The film is full of guffaw-worthy beats that start with your hand over your mouth and end with your head shaking in your hands. Does Prisca only wrap her mind around the time-bending premise when she notices her son’s newly bulging genitals? Of course. Is that the most “I can’t believe he went there” moment in a Shyamalan movie where Maddox and a young girl he meets age into Alex Wolff and Eliza Scanlen as their child-like intellects are transplanted into the bodies of horny teenage virgins? Of course not. They don’t give Oscars for how brilliantly Scanlen navigates the strangeness of being a child and an adult at the same time, but maybe they should.

There are other sorts of gross-out moments in store for you, most of which ironically prove effective because of Shyamalan’s visual restraint. The aging effects are subtle enough that the other effects — a twisted limb here, an impromptu surgery there — are able to draft off their residual verisimilitude, which goes a long way in a movie that fails to sustain much interest in the mystery behind its horrors, but still builds to a coda that explains them all in imagination-deflating detail. “Old” insists that trying to flip the hourglasses of our lives is a futile waste of the brief time we get in this world, and there’s something vaguely poignant about watching these characters make peace with that idea and/or die trying. But the emotional undertow of Shyamalan’s story feels grafted onto a film that scurries from one supernatural nightmare to the next so fast that none of them feel rooted in a place of shared reality.

Scary as it is to imagine how your body and all of its ailments might go haywire if you sped through 10 years in the span of five hours — and sick as that can be to watch — Shyamalan completely fails to connect such horrors to the mortal fears we live with every day. Shyamalan understands that nobody gets out alive, but he never wraps his head around why everyone keeps trying. The central point of his film eventually comes to double as the biggest knock against it: If life were really so short, it would be easier to appreciate the time that we’re given. By the time “Old” is over, the strongest feeling it leaves us with is that it just got 108 minutes shorter.

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This Article is related to: Film, Reviews and tagged M. Night Shyamalan, old, Reviews, Vicky Krieps

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Old Review: M. Night Shyamalan Is at His Best and Worst

Collider 22 July, 2021 - 03:02pm

Guy (Gael García Bernal), his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps), and their two young children, 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old Trent (Nolan River), are vacationing at an exclusive resort. There’s some tension between Guy and Prisca that they’re trying to hide from their children as well as an unknown medical ailment, but they all resolve to try and lose themselves in this idyllic location. The management informs the family that there’s an exclusive beach that they only let certain people know about. The family drives out with another family, surgeon Charles (Rufus Sewell), his vain wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), and their young daughter Kara. When they arrive on the beach, it seems pleasant enough until a dead body washes up. The group soon discovers that whenever they try to leave, a pressure exerts itself on their minds and causes them to pass out back at the beach. Even worse, everyone in the group discovers that they’re aging at an alarming rate. With their lives ticking away, they must figure out what’s happening and how to escape it.

Old is a movie where once the inciting event hits and the group is at the beach, something is happening about every five minutes. The movie refuses to slow down, which feels like a conscious choice from Shyamalan to pace his film in such a way that you’re in the mindset of the characters. Just as time is speeding along for them, it speeds along for us as an audience. On the one hand, this makes Old immensely entertaining. You feel like you’re pulling at a thread, trying to uncover what exactly is happening to these people and why, which makes it a riveting, bonkers experience, especially when Shyamalan starts making bigger, more outlandish swings that don’t land.

The film’s main problem is that this premise, which leads to a rich thematic idea of how quickly life moves and what we choose to fight and obsess over leads us to lose sight over what’s important, never breathes enough to make us care about any of these people as individuals. They’re pawns in a game, and while the game is fun, it also lacks much depth. You can only care about these people in the broadest possible strokes of, “What would I do in this situation?” rather than anything the script brings to the table, which is a shame because in the film’s opening, you have the opportunity to learn about Guy and his family on a deeper level. That opening twenty minutes is where they feel like real people rather than just subjects for what’s happening on The Weird Time Beach.

When the film finally does reach its resolution, it feels empty because there’s no catharsis to it. You get an answer, and the answer is satisfactory insofar as it explains how and why everything unfolded, but it doesn’t tell us anything about our characters or their journey. It’s the rare instance where I feel like Shyamalan would have been better served leaving his ending ambiguous and not providing an answer so that the audience would at least have to sit with the themes of time, again, and loss. Instead, the made-up time beach gets a made-up answer, and that’s the end of it.

Old opens in theaters on July 23rd.

Old Review: M. Night Shyamalan's Mystery Is Tedious, But Intense

Screen Rant 22 July, 2021 - 03:02pm

Old is releasing in theaters on the evening of Thursday, July 22. The film is 108 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for strong violence, disturbing images, suggestive content, partial nudity and brief strong language.

Tropical vacation with a supernatural twist

KCTV5 News 22 July, 2021 - 03:02pm

Every M. Night Shyamalan movie (including 'Old'), definitively ranked from worst to best

USA TODAY 22 July, 2021 - 01:56pm

We're ranking the highs and lows of twistmaster M. Night Shyamalan's big-screen career, including his new beach-bound supernatural thriller 'Old.'

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Ahead of his film "Old," USA TODAY's Brian Truitt revisits some of the craziest plot twists from director M. Night Shyamalan's past movies. USA TODAY

The Twistmaster General is back.

Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan turns a beach trip into a horror show with his new supernatural thriller "Old" (in theaters Friday), which stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps and also puts a very Shyamalan spin on a French graphic novel. It’s the latest in a roller coaster of an IMDb filmography (raise your hand if you knew Shyalaman wrote “Stuart Little”) that’s filled with plot surprises and turns aplenty, usually for better but sometimes for worse.

In honor of “Old,” let’s rank the highs and lows of Shyamalan’s big-screen fare. (Not included: His 1992 debut – and starring vehicle – “Praying With Anger,” which played the film-festival circuit and isn't available on streaming platforms.) 

“What if plant life tried to kill us?” is kind of a neat horror concept, and Shyamalan opens this thing like gangbusters, with chilling shots of people falling to their deaths. But the execution wasn’t there, the acting really wasn’t there (Mark Wahlberg actually converses with a houseplant) and the whole thing turned out to be a silly ecological disaster.

The one time Shyamalan ventured into other people’s stories proves he should never do that again. This fantasy adventure based on the cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is purely kids’ stuff – and not even good stuff, with bad special effects and horrendous dialogue plaguing the tale of a boy who can “bend” air, water and fire and save the world.

Will Smith and son Jaden starred in this joyless sci-fi vanity project about a father and son centuries into the future, after mankind has left Earth, to only crash-land back on the ol’ home planet and survive all sorts of craziness. The elder Smith once called it "excruciating" and “the most painful failure of my career" (though he hadn’t seen “Collateral Beauty” yet, obviously.)

This might be news to some but Shyamalan did a kids’ comedy. With Rosie O’Donnell. About finding the Lord. (We’re not kidding.) The film’s cheesy late-‘90s look belies the rather uplifting existential quest of a 10-year-old Catholic school boy (Joseph Cross) who after the death of his grandpa (Robert Loggia) seeks to talk with God with the help of a Phillies-loving nun (O’Donnell). 

Paul Giamatti runs a Philadelphia apartment complex and Bryce Dallas Howard is a water nymph who shows up in his pool needing to be protected from a monstrous wolf by the place’s misfit residents. Shyamalan’s attempt at a modern fairy tale isn’t a completely terrible effort though some of the aspects lean a little ridiculous.

The anticipated follow-up to “Unbreakable” and “Split” is a well-made but frustrating attempt to close out a “superheroes are among us” tale. Third-act swerves are more confusing than revelatory, though fans of the earlier films get lots of screen time with their main men (Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and James McAvoy) in a mental facility, and it’s a letdown to what could have been a great three-film ode to comic books.

If you already weren't afraid of aging and mortality, Shyamalan goes the extra unnerving mile with this middling thriller that at least boasts an intriguing third-act reveal. A swanky island resort sends a group of tourists to a secluded beach, though they don't get the memo that it's pretty much the opposite of the fountain of youth, leading to chaos, death, lots of screaming and, in the case of some kids, puberty and growing up way too fast. 

The story of 19th-century Pennsylvania villagers afraid of mysterious creatures living in the woods seems to be the dividing line where folks either went with Shyamalan or struggled against his twisty nature. But the reveal here, which comes as a result of a blind girl (Bryce Dallas Howard) seeking help for her wounded love (Joaquin Phoenix), not only works but also adds considerable emotional depth.

The current Shyamalaissance started here with this clever low-budget thriller about two teenagers visiting the grandparents they’ve never met and finding all manner of strangeness during their very freaky stay. The filmmaker pulls off the very simple concept with style, and the signature Shyamalan swerve, while not shocking, is pretty great.

Even if this wasn’t a secret “Unbreakable” sequel, it’s a fantastic psychological thriller with rather deep themes about those who are seen as “broken.” McAvoy is aces playing the nine different identities of Kevin Wendell Crumb, a troubled sort who kidnaps three teenage girls, and the final confrontation between his Beast personality and victim Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) makes the movie.

Yes, the surprise ending is an all-timer – and one that probably wouldn’t have been effective in a social-media world that picks apart everything. What’s really cool about the story of Haley Joel Osment’s embattled boy who can see ghosts and Bruce Willis’ stoic child psychologist is how it straddles hope and tragedy, plus is still wholly watchable even when you know the infamous revelation.

Shyamalan was doing great superhero flicks before Iron Man and Captain America came along. A somber affair, “Unbreakable” is a love letter to comics with its pair of origin stories plus a couple of icons: Willis as a train-wreck survivor turned reluctant, somewhat immortal hero, and Jackson as a comic-loving, totally breakable mastermind.

An alien-invasion movie that’s really not about extraterrestrials at all, Shyamalan’s sci-fi classic takes an insular look at the familiar trope by focusing the drama within a family’s walls rather than on what’s happening outside (though the latter does affect the former). “Signs” follows one man’s redemption (Mel Gibson’s former reverend, who lost his faith following a tragedy) to a climax that probably shows a little too much. Still, Shyamalan is at the height of his Hitchcock-meets-Spielberg powers. (Just don’t make a sequel, please.)

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