So, is good old M. Night Shyamalan’s Old good? The reviews have been completely divided on this but the director continues to be a man of great ideas. This film is adapted from a graphic novel but the explanation for what is going on (which is more of a reveal than a twist, similar to The Village) is all his. The thing is though, M. Night Shyamalan is also a man whose concept of what is too silly is not quite as adjusted as that of most adults. People have criticised him, in the past as now, either for over ambitious or indulgent storytelling but any time he has failed it has been because of this inability to recognise how far is too far.
The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are the two films where he has stayed on the right side of the line (just). They have the same heavy earnestness that only serves to draw this line closer than it needs to be but they don’t cross it. All of his other films can be judged on how much they exceed this marker though. Signs, The Village and The Visit get their toe over it, Lady in the Water, Split, Glass and this one dance across it, The Happening trips over it and The Last Airbender and Another Earth run way past it.
Old has a terrifying concept at its heart, it is like a horror film where the spectral stalker that messes with people’s minds, abilities and bodies is one that is actually coming after all of us for real; aging. What is frightening is that it is sprinting towards these people, not creeping up on them as the beach they get trapped on ages them seven years every hour they are there. This is an evil force that we are all going to be destroyed by in the end which makes it palpable but unfortunately any sense of terror is killed faster than the old lady and the dog because it is too often too daft.
There is a lot of potential in the story that the narrative starts to explore, like what is it like being a small child in a grown body or what happens when people don’t have the time or resources to adapt to the symptoms of cellular degeneration, but this is inconsistent. I’m no doctor but there are various medical issues that characters suffer from that don’t marry up with my understanding of how these things progress or are cured and also, while their cognition is not accelerated their sense of sorrow, regret and mourning randomly seems to be.
There are plot threads that come and go very quickly as well but hey, maybe that’s life so maybe that’s deliberate. In the end this is the problem; the film doesn’t seem to have the commitment for the audience to know what is deliberate or not and as a result too much of it seems, well silly.
Silly or not, Old is always intriguing and the performances are good. I was never less than entertained but as with so many of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies it could have been great. This guy’s curse is that he has brilliant ideas but doesn’t quite have the capability to translate them to screen. Only once has someone else directed one of his scripts and that was Stuart Little. If he was prepared to hand something over to a David Fincher, a Marielle Heller, a Bong Joon Ho or a Guillermo del Toro then we could get something amazing but I fear if you are waiting for that to happen you’re just going to get old.
The Ripley Factor:
It isn’t a constant trait with Shyamalan but too often in his films we do get women in an unnecessarily dressed down state. It definitely happened in Split when two of the kidnapped girls randomly lost some of their clothes, and it happens here too. They are on a beach so bikini’s might be appropriate but on the other hand they are on a beach so bikinis might be appropriate.
Elsewhere there are strong female role models and weaker ones just as with the other gender. In exploring aging they took the choice to include a woman who is particularly afraid of it which is a bit of a cliche, but as it is this is one of the many aspects that remains undeveloped so by accident or design they avoid any confirmation or examination of sexist ideals.