Old (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Stuck in aging faster

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film “Old” starts well with an intriguing and frightening story promise, but then it only ends up being quite rote and contrived instead. Sure, the movie did a fairly competent job of presenting and then developing its story promise during the first two acts, and I was entertained enough by how it relentlessly pushes the story and characters toward its possible logical conclusion. Sadly, the movie stumbles more than once during its arbitrary third act, and I felt quite dissatisfied as walking out of the screening room along with other audiences.

In the beginning, we are introduced to one ordinary middle-class family about to have what may be their last vacation. While they look mostly cordial to each other in front of their two children, Guy Cappa (Gael García Bernal) and his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are actually going through a very difficult time after deciding to end their marriage for some personal reason, and the main purpose of this vacation is giving their kids some good time before whatever they and their kids will have to endure later. Nevertheless, Guy and Prisca soon find themselves arguing with each other not long after arriving in a nice big hotel located in some seaside tropical area, and their kids, who have already been well aware of what is going on between them, become more concerned even while looking forward to having lots of fun during next several days.

Subsequently enjoying the luxurious environment of the hotel, everyone becomes a bit more cheerful than before, and that is when they come to learn about a certain special spot not so far from the hotel. It seems that they can spend a little quiet private time together at that spot, so Guy and Prisca agree to go there along with their kids, but then they are not so pleased to learn later that they and their kids are not the only ones to go there.

Anyway, that spot in question looks fairly nice to the family and several other hotel guests who happen to accompany them. It is actually just a small beach isolated from the outside by the wide and steep rock wall, so they have to walk through the narrow tunnel of that rock wall, but it does not take much time for them to be charmed and then relaxed by the seemingly peaceful mood of this beach. As time leisurely goes by on the beach, Guy and Prisca feel less worried about whatever may happen next to them and their kids, and we come to sense some possibility of reconsideration and reconciliation between them.

However, there are already some bad signs about the beach. At one point, Guy and Prisca’s kids are baffled to find a bunch of objects buried in sand, and then something shocking happens not long after that. Because of that incident, everyone on the beach is certainly willing to leave the beach as soon as possible, but, not so surprisingly, that turns out to be impossible for some inexplicable reason, and then they are thrown into more panic and disorientation due to a number of equally disturbing happenings.

From these happenings, everyone on the beach belatedly comes to realize the terrifying secret of the beach. Probably because of some rare magnetic substance in the rock wall, their bodies are all getting aged quite faster than usual, and, unless they find any possible way out from the beach, they will all eventually be dead due to their accelerated aging process.

As gradually pushing its main characters into more dread and desperation along the plot, the movie, which is based on Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel “Sandcastle”, doles out one unnerving moment to another. As they get aged second by second, Guy, Prisca, and other adult characters on the beach are more reminded of their physical fragility, and Prisca soon comes to have a very gruesome emergency when her certain illness becomes quite more serious than before. In case of Guy and Prisca’s two kids, they are naturally aghast at how suddenly they grow up so fast within a few hours just like some other kid on the beach, and we are served with a morbidly intense scene when one of them happens to have a serious biological problem with that other kid due to their lack of certain physical knowledge.

However, the movie unfortunately lets us down during the last act as resorting to glaring plot contrivance, and we become more aware of a number of weak aspects in the film. While its characters are more or less than plot elements to be squeezed for more suspense or tension, some of their dialogues feel strained and artificial as trying to tell and explain to us a bit too much, and this often undermines the good efforts from its main cast members including Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Alex Wolff, Eliza Scanlen, and Thomasin McKenzie. Effortlessly conveying to us their characters’ troubled marital relationship right from the beginning, Bernal and Krieps are dependable as usual, and Wolff, Scanlen, and McKenzie are equally solid while reminding us again of why they have been new talented performers to watch during last several years.

Overall, “Old” is an initially promising but ultimately middling misfire, but it is at least a mild failure compared to “The Last Airbender” (2010) and “After Earth” (2013), which are still the lowest points in Shyamalan’s checkered filmmaking career. I cannot recommend it, but I was not that bored during my viewing, and I sincerely believe that Shyamalan will soon get a chance to rebound from another low point of his as he previously did in “The Visit” (2015).

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