M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Old’ is a nightmarish meditation on death and aging

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If the subconscious draw of the horror genre is that it forces us to face our mortality, perhaps few films have taken that concept to more literal effect than Old. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller, about a beach that mysteriously makes its inhabitants age in rapid fashion, goes from campy and comical to terrifying and stressful in the blink of an eye. But there’s an additional mood at play here, one that elevates the content in unexpected ways: melancholic longing. Time runs out for all of us, a message that Shyamalan sends loud and clear in one of his most sentimental films.

The Capa family arrives at the sprawling Anamika Resort ready for the perfect family vacation. Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are having some marital troubles, but they decide to put their issues on the back-burner for the sake of their children, six-year-old Trent and eleven-year-old Maddox. When the resort’s owner offers their family, along with two other groups, access to an ultra-secluded beach, they jump at the chance for a day of fun in the sun.

But this idyllic upscale vacation quickly turns into a thing of nightmares. A dead body washes ashore; they find themselves blacking out any time they try to step off the parameter of the beach. And when Guy and Prisca’s young children appear beside them sporting the bodies of teenagers, it’s clear something is very, very wrong.

The fact that our bodies will start to deteriorate is a certainty, and it’s that very notion that makes the concept behind Old all the more distressing. It’s the perfect opportunity for body horror galore, and Shyamalan milks that imagery for all it’s worth — think hideously broken bones and emergency tumor removal. Yeah, it isn’t pretty. But for a film about the most repulsive ways our bodies can fail us, it’s surprisingly beautiful to look at. Mike Gioulakis’ fluid camerawork is exhilarating, playing with unexpected angles to mess with our perception of what – and who – we see.

Shyamalan is a divisive filmmaker, and there’s no doubt that some moviegoers will have mixed feelings about his latest offering. There’s some stilted dialogue and unnecessary exposition that give the picture a slightly clunky edge. But with Old, Shyamalan isn’t concerned with catering to the audience’s expectations, and that might be a good thing. The world has come to associate his films with “twists”, with big surprise endings that blow our minds à la The Sixth Sense. The biggest surprise about Old is that there are no surprises. Aging is a villain none of us can escape.

Old is now playing at Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater Miami. For tickets, click here.


Lauren Cohen

Lauren Cohen is Miami Film Festival's Co-Director of Programming. She also runs the Festival’s membership level for young professionals, CineClub. Learn more about Lauren on Programmers.