True to most twist-centered media, everything that happens in the beginning is meant to set up things that build towards the twist so that on rewatch it all adds up. The acting is really quite bad. It’s almost a parody of conversation, and the character’s quirks set up everything that happens in this movie, so they just feel unnatural and awkward. Shyamalan consistently takes his films way too seriously for what he actually produces. The first 30 minutes of the movie is like watching robots interact. Every sentence is there to advance the plot.
For me, it’s a little too one-to-one. Someone I watched it with described it as a puzzle, everything fits together just so. Given this structure though, unfortunately Old fails to make audiences feel anything—we’re just watching to see the puzzle pieces come together.
As I watched 6 year old Trent ask strangers for their name and occupation, it occurred to me how terrible one’s career is as a defining feature. It’s just such a cheap way to give us an idea of who the character is. And in real life, it shouldn’t be how we identify ourselves. For years I’ve refused to respond to the question “what do you do?” with what my job is. I prefer to say something like, I like to read, or watch movies or go for drives in the rich neighborhoods, or maintain the eyes-glued website. It gives a better impression of who I am. When faced with their certain and premature deaths, these characters continue to refer to and think of each other as their careers. I wish this had been explored more in the film.
Grappling with the psychological component of aging rapidly isn’t something Shyamalan tries to handle nor is creating some kind of social commentary, so this movie would’ve been so much better had it been played more for laughs. It could’ve been a campy, fun movie, with some scary or creepy bits peppered throughout. Instead the tone of the film is incongruous with the acting and the way these characters respond to different obstacles. It just doesn’t work.
The experience of growing decades older over the course of a couple hours would likely drive most people insane. There’s an unrealistic serenity to the way these characters act that’s just incomprehensible. At one point Jarin, the nurse, (don’t forget that—he told us multiple times—he’s a nurse) comes up with a plan to leave the beach:
“Us trying to leave is like swimming to the surface too fast after being deep in the ocean. Our bodies can’t reacclimate. That’s why we go unconscious when we try to leave. Maybe we could slowly walk through the canyon. Take a step, stand still. Do it over 8-10 hours. Let our bodies acclimate. But according to Prisca’s timeline, who would be willing to give up 20 of their years trying?”
Um, fucking everyone? The other option is to die in less than 24hrs. I’m baffled that they all didn’t rally behind this plan and give it a shot.
And the twist? Scientists are shuttling groups of people with illnesses to this beach so they can test medicines. Interesting, but the problem is that the reveal explicitly tells us their aim is to save lives, and distribute necessary medicines or even cures to whoever needs it. This is absurd. It would’ve been better if their goals were more nefarious and malicious—like if they acknowledged that the companies funding these studies and research were patent- and profit-seeking first and foremost. That’s the reality we live in, and the way these test subjects act doesn’t in any way imply a post capitalist society.
I’m not saying this movie would’ve been good had the company’s motivations been more nefarious, but it wouldn’t have made me quite so angry. I might have liked it if someone had tried Jarin’s plan and gotten out only to be killed by some official looking figure, like someone dressed in tactical gear or something. That would’ve teased the ending in a fun way. But it’s been noted that this movie is essentially the trolley problem, so having the pharmaceutical company be evil would remove this element of, “maybe what they’re doing isn’t so bad.” So showing the audience these supposedly altruistic scientists dealing with a hiccup, by undoubtedly killing them, would throw the ethical dilemma off.
I’ve been watching a bunch of folk horror lately, and there’s a bit of that style to the movie, which I do appreciate. The land specifically terrorizes them. They’re outsiders who are shuffled off to this place they can’t leave and then the environment does what it does. Outside of the beach itself, this movie doesn’t really have a villain, given the motivations of the scientists.
Anyways, life is short, I guess. Lover’s quarrels and tensions between friends and family only waste the brief time we have together. Shyamalan is a very competent director, and his films could potentially succeed despite the scripts. Old just doesn’t.
I haven’t seen all of his movies, but I’d guess this one is right in the middle. I doubt he’s got a “best,” but from what I’ve seen, this definitely isn’t the worst.