THE BEACH — Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan is a polarizing filmmaker. Depending on who you talk to you're either going to find someone who loves his work or maybe someone who thinks he's a one-hit wonder with nothing of substance since his breakout film "The Sixth Sense."
Love him or hate him, Shyamalan is back with his latest thriller, "Old" now in theaters. The movie is based on a French graphic novel titled "Sandcastle" and weaves a tale of strangers trapped on a secluded beach who find they are aging at a rapid rate.
I for one have been a Shyamalan fan for a long time. I feel he lost his way with a string of films starting with "The Happening." Which means I'm one of a handful of people who really enjoyed "Lady in the Water." So, overall I am a supporter and have really enjoyed his last three films, "The Visit," Split" and "Glass." For those reasons it's even harder for me to say I did not enjoy "Old" even though I really wanted to.
Here are a few reasons I think "Old" should be filed under the tab for "Lesser Works" in Shyamalan's growing catalog:
The acting is sub par for the cast
"Old" has a solid cast, even if it's not a star-powered one. With veterans like Gael Garcia Bernal and Rufus Sewell alongside proven newcomers in Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff you'd think you had a fine recipe for a satisfying acting cocktail. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way.
Bernal isn't bad, but his acting feels robotic and void of feeling. My assumption is that has to do with the script and the direction that we'll get into later. Sewell is fine as a mysterious and narcissistic physician, but I'm not sure the performance landed as they hoped it would. Wof and McKenzie are likely the best part of the film from an acting standpoint, but it's still not on par with their stronger works in films like "Jojo Rabbit" and "Hereditary."
Where the acting got really straining is with some of the cast whose faces you may recognize but not their names. Vicky Krieps, who plays Bernal's wife, kept taking me out of the moment with her emotionless and clunky performance. I don't like sounding harsh as I have no doubt she is a fine actor, it just did not work for me in "Old."
The dialogue is rough at best
There are some great filmmakers out there who write incredible stories, but struggle with dialogue at times. One in particular is a favorite of mine and that's Christopher Nolan. I also think Shyamalan can fall into this category at times. I don't think his dialogue is always off, but when it's off it kind of slaps you in the face.
In "Signs," for example, there is a lot of spoken exposition. Some of it is brilliant in its composition, but other monologues and conversations fall flat and feel forced. To me, "Old" is an hour and 50 minutes of the latter point.
So much of the dialogue and specifically the conversations feel forced and unnatural. It's so on the nose sometimes that I was asking if Shyamalan truly thought the audience was that slow that we couldn't pick up on what was going on without blundering explanations from a character who felt it was time to explain there was a dead body laying on the sand to all the others on the beach who could clearly see the dead body lying on the sand.
Dialogue and exposition is hard and that's why I often give writers a pass when they don't get it all right. But in "Old" it seems to be in your face the whole way through.
It's too unbelievable
Let me start this one off right. Yes, it's a movie about a beach that ages people decades in just a matter of hours. It's fantasy, it's a movie. That is not lost on me. I have no issue with the supernatural aspect to the film. That's why I wanted to see it. What I have a problem with is when you set up certain realities within the world of the film and then break those rules.
The film is supposed to take place within our world and our time and that's what makes this beach so odd and terrifying. Things like this do not happen. That's the intriguing part. What gets unbelievable for me is how the characters react to situations and events.
Minor spoilers ahead.
If you've seen the trailer for "Old" I am not ruining anything here, but if you have not and would like to avoid any possible spoilers please jump to the next section.
In the film two small children grow up by about 10 years in a matter of an hour or so. The kids went from ages 6 and 11 to 11 and 16, respectively. When their parents see them, the reaction is one of disbelief that their child has grown so much. As a parent, if I saw that my 11-year-old daughter appeared to be missing and instead there was a 16-year-old who resembled my daughter wearing her swimsuit, I would be in hysterics demanding to know where my child was.
I'm sure this is a fickle thing to be bothered by, but for me the rules of the universe had no rhyme or reason and it made it difficult for me to connect to the story and its protagonists, or its antagonists, for that matter.
There are a couple of things I appreciated about the film, however. Even when Shyamalan seems to miss the mark with one of his films I always appreciate what he captures in camera. He has an ability to tell a story with a lens in a way few others can. I won't get into it now, but two of my favorite shots from any film come from "Signs" and "Unbreakable." I didn't have one of those moments with "Old," but nonetheless I think Shyamalan is a master with shot compositions and I enjoyed that aspect of the film.
While I think the film itself was a miss, I have to say that I love the concept. The idea of aging so quickly and what that does to you physically and emotionally is fascinating. How would you react to your children missing their childhood? How would you face a lifetime of mortality in just a few short hours? An alluring concept that I believe lacked execution.
What parents should know
"Old" undoubtedly earned its PG-13 rating and I would assume it was edging close to an R. The film is psychologically taxing and has a lot of heavy subject matter. The film will be scary to some and involves a great deal of death through natural causes, accidents and murder. There are also close-up shots of knives slicing into flesh and mangled bodies.
There is also brief rear-nudity of a woman seen more than once as well as one distinct use of the so-called R-rated word. Other than that moment, the language is not pervasive or very strong.
"Old" is a brilliant idea wrapped in a disappointing package. I don't enjoy being hard on films in my reviews and try to find the good things. I don't go to a movie hoping to hate it so I can have a clever and scathing review. Quite the contrary. I go to the movies because I love film. I love the worlds they create, the creativity we experience and the release from stepping into the mind and imagination of those who made the film. With "Old" I had hoped to really enjoy it, but I just couldn't get there. There are things worth appreciating, but as a whole it missed the mark for me.
As for you, I can't say. Maybe you'll see something I missed. Maybe there is something there that I couldn't see and you'll enjoy the experience and spectacle on a level I couldn't. But for me this was a stumble for Shyamalan, but I look forward to see what he comes back with.
"Old" is rated PG-13 for strong violence, disturbing images, suggestive content, partial nudity and brief strong language.