M. Night Shyamalan’s Old is stunningly beautiful and disturbingly thought-provoking

Janessa Robinson

Waves of water hit a beach.Shifaaz shamoon/Unsplash

(This movie review contains zero spoilers, but it does give you a peak into the film experience.)

If you want to be intimately lured into the world of a family’s life of playfulness, discord, fear, and love then tune into film director M. Night Shyamalan’s most recent film titled Old.

On July 21, 2021 at 7:00 pm PT Old screened at the Regal Natomas Marketplace 4DX, ScreenX & RPX theater in Sacramento, California. The theater was packed with many audience members wearing masks to cover their faces and some opting not to do so. By the time the lights went down, there were no seats left.

The premise of Old presents a fascinating depiction of character development which manifests physically through the rapid aging of vacation-goers who unfortunately carry their baggage onto the beach with them.

This thriller is set in present day on a tropical remote island vacation resort which leads to the “piece de resistance.” A stunning beach lined with walls of rock and a light blue ocean with thrashing waves of water.

The story centers on two children and their parents who are wading through what is left of their marriage. Shyamalan’s direction choices open the film with a sense of safety as the audience peaks in on the family’s relationship in a fly-on-the-wall style. One by one cast members are introduced as the camera breaks away from the family and explores the happenings at the resort. Ultimately eleven characters intersect on the beach when they are united in the experience of what is later learned to be a series of very unfortunate events.

In true M. Night Shyamalan fashion, the director takes on a cameo role in the film as a friendly resort staff member who lurks in mysterious ways—behind a camera lens, no less. These sorts of visual metaphors are present throughout the film and the piece itself could be interpreted as an exploration of eastern philosophy metaphysical notions around the endless cycle of birth, life, aging, illness, and death.

The beauty of the beach is perhaps a distraction from its eerie effect on its guests who, one by one, begin to experience strange and unsettling changes that drive the entire group completely mad. Couples are drawn apart, strangers become enemies, children become unrecognizable, adults are left with no more easy answers and find themselves simply out of time.

Time is a key theme presented in the film. From the opening sequence as the big vehicle propels the audience into the story with impatient children to the discussions among the parents who seek the appropriate moment to share big news with their kids. There’s the psychologist who, time and time again, finds herself losing control of her own body. Finally, there’s the events on the beach which call into question the nature of time itself. Throughout the happenings on the beach, the audience is forced to confront fears of aging and death as the film direction and editing immerses viewers in the experience of confusion and sensory loss.

There’s an incident in the film that bears further discussion about screenwriting, character development, and casting actors for roles that put them in the position to play out the worst scenarios of racial bias. This single moment caused a gasp to take over the audience in the theater. However, it was preceded moments before by a thundering outburst roar of laughter rippling across the seats as a character uttered a line about race that is sure to become an infamous meme. Ultimately some of the characters are stereotypes turned inside-out. They are pulled off their shelves and given life through a series of mirrors in the form of dialogue and action with other characters—some moments worth a few cringes.

Speaking of cringes, the thrill of the film comes from the mystery of the characters’ choices, the cut-away shots, the elements of surprise, the disturbing violence, and the search for a relieving resolution. The film ultimately closes with the unveiling an unveiling that seems to serve as a befitting social commentary on the values of today’s world. When M. Night Shyamalan nails it, he nails it.

This film is thrilling enough for the adults who need a jolt back to life after two years of COVID-19 quarantine and visually safe enough for young adults, children who are mature enough for strong images and accompanied by a guardian who is prepared to explain some of the content.

All in all, this film is more than worth a watch. Old is worth a visit to the theater (adhering to COVID-19 protocols), a family discussion, and film theory analysis.

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Janessa writes news stories on local businesses, entertainment, events, politics, arts, and culture in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles County, CA

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