REVIEW: ‘Old’ (2021) – Twisty Thriller Marks a Confident Shyamalan Return

“Much like every other movie from Shyamalan’s filmography, this film leaves the viewer hanging on the edge of their seat for the entire runtime.”

In recent years, M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation has taken a serious beating after directing universally panned razzie films such as The Happening and The Last Airbender. Even some recent successes like The Village and Split haven’t been enough to salvage his career. After a few shaky outings over the past few years, he is back on form again. Love him or hate him, Shyamalan’s perplexing films have had huge impacts on audiences and have gotten people talking regardless. With his recent feature film Old, he puts his bizarrely disturbing spin on the concept of age and time with striking visuals and emotional power throughout.

A middle-aged man with short dark hair on a beach, seen from the chest up and wearing a blue collared shirt. He has a concerned look on his face.
Image courtesy of Blinding Light Pictures/Universal Pictures

The story follows Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) who are on a tropical holiday with their kids Trent and Maddox when they come across a secluded beach. What starts out as a pleasant daytrip on the coast soon unfolds into a series of extremely sinister events as the tourists begin aging rapidly, reducing their entire lives into a single day. With no means of escape from the beach and an uncontrollable amount of frenzy among everyone, the survivors are forced to gather their wits and make sense of what they are going through. Much like every other movie from Shyamalan’s filmography, this film leaves the viewer hanging on the edge of their seat for the entire runtime. Unsurprisingly enough, the film also has its share of ridiculousness and things that won’t sit right with every viewer, but it’s a fast-paced, wild ride that everyone is guaranteed to get a big kick out of.

Shyamalan could be said to have a directorial gimmick, although this is by no means an undervaluation of his approach. He makes genre films in the guise of realist dramas. Since he hit it big with The Sixth Sense, all of his films have used this engrossing device, each in a different genre. What makes Old so interesting is how it could have gone two completely different ways; one would be a horror comedy and the other would be plain horror/thriller, which is in fact the genre this movie advertised with. Surprisingly enough, this film falls in between these two, resulting in a story that’s as creepy and mystical as it is fascinating. The film works solidly with decent acting but it’s those signature Shyamalan twists that once again make this a must-see. Intriguing settings and scenery amplify the overall presentation and the use of CGI is frighteningly brilliant.

A young man and a young woman in a dark cave. They are huddled together seeming worried while the girl holds a light.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

The film has the same basic structure that Shyamalan always uses, where audiences are swept up in the events and only discover at the end what the movie was truly about. From there, they have to think back to understand the ultimate meaning of the story. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, considering how several people have disliked Shyamalan’s previous concepts, but there’s no denying the fact that it’s immensely entertaining. While there is not much more that can be said about the plot without ruining the movie’s surprises, a great deal of the film concerns the relationships of the characters who are stranded on the beach and their interactions with one another, but the mystery of time and sudden aging also dominates the plot. The performances are rock-solid, with Alex Wolff and Thomasin Mckenzie stealing the show as they portray the young adult versions of Guy and Prisca’s kids. Vicky Krieps, Gael Garcia Bernal, Rufus Sewell and Eliza Scanlen, along with a few others, also deliver performances that really elevate the film.

One potential limitation of the film is that the pace of the story is slightly uneven, where some parts are glossed over even though the story would have benefitted from more development, whilst other parts are labored. Otherwise there’s really nothing that stops it from being a solid thriller. Old may ultimately end up as just another perplexing movie from M. Night Shyamalan’s filmography, but it’s extremely enjoyable and thought-provoking regardless.