Old age isn’t for sissies, but sissies have nothing to fear except boredom when watching M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, “Old.” Inspired by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters’ Swiss graphic novel, “Sandcastle,” this film has some touching moments, but also veers into misogyny and tedious exposition.
Prisca (Vicky Krieps) has found this fantastic tropical resort. She wants one last vacation before she and Guy (Gael García Bernal) separate. The resort, Anamika, provides them with transport from the airport. They are greeted by a line of service people and served tropical drinks tailored to their needs. In the spacious, luxury suite, their children, six-year-old Trent (Nolan River) and 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton), hear them arguing.
Elsewhere, on a lonely beach a Black man, rapper Mid-Sized Sedan, aka Brendan (Aaron Pierre), watches as his companion, a lithesome bleach blonde, takes off her bikini facing away from the camera and goes into the water. Yes, Shyamalan is going to use this as an opportunity to give the audience bikini bodies to ogle.
The manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) offers Guy and Prisca a special trip to a secluded beach on the nature preserve side of the island. It’s all very hush-hush except Guy and Prisca are also joined by the demanding doctor, Charles (Rufus Sewell), his trophy wife Chrystal (Abbley Lee), their daughter Kara (Kyle Bailey) and the doctor’s mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) and Agnes’ little terrier. They lug their beach chairs, umbrellas and food down to the beach and join the rapper.
Eventually they are joined by Patricia (Nikie Amuka-Bird), an epileptic who had a seizure earlier at breakfast, and her nurse husband, Karin (Ken Leung).
There have already been ominous signs. Trent made friends with the young Idlib (Kailen Jude), the manager’s nephew, who told him he has no friend. Just before the van drops the two families off the camera pans to vultures. On the beach, before he runs into the naked corpse of the skinny-dipping blonde, Trent notices there are no fish in the water. The kids find rusted things from the hotel and buried dolls, left partially buried by the high tide. You already know what is going to go wrong because it is in the title, “Old.” The people on the beach are all going to age rapidly, but they also learn that they all suffer from some type of illness.
Prisca has an abdominal tumor. Patricia, as mentioned above, has epilepsy. The rapper has some sort of disease like hemophilia. Charles has some mental disorder, touched off by the pressure of his work as a cardiothoracic surgeon. Chrystal has hypocalcemia and is concerned about getting enough calcium.
Initially what the adults notice is the extreme growth spurts experienced by the three children. That means the children are played by different actors to show their rapid maturation. After River, Luca Faustino Rodriguez and Alex Wolff take on the role in that order. Emun Elliott (a Brit of part Persian descent) is the adult Trent. Maddox is played by Thomasin McKenzie for age 16-ish and Embeth Davidtz is her as an adult. After Bailey, Mikaya Risher is Kara at 11 and Eliza Scanlen is the 15-year-old Kara. The two girls have well fitting bikinis as if they were more prepared for being shipwrecked than Ginger and Mrs. Howell on “Gilligan’s Island.”
Like the castaways on Gilligan’s Island, the reason the people can’t escape (besides faulty cellphone reception) is laughably ludicrous and cloaked in a pseudo-scientific explanation that only Gilligan would accept.
For this next criticism, first, let me explain I am an amateur expert on girls swimwear. I still wear a children’s size swimsuit and I was ordering overseas (Australia) before rash guards became popular in the US. The age range I’m in is around twelve. From that perspective, I feel Shyamalan could have chosen more modest wear for the preteens and teens. The glaring whiteness of the skin of some cast members just begs for massive amounts of sunscreen, rash guards and hats, or, in keeping with the accelerated aging premise, major sunburn and skin melanomas.
Krieps and Amuka-Bird are allowed their modesty, but the aging of Lee’s Chrystal is particularly garishly gruesome, with worsening attempts at makeup and then a strange contorted death. Yes, pretty women suffer anxiety as they age and may cling vainly to their superficial attributes, but Lee’s descent from preening beach bunny in a strategically tied string bikini to a fearful anxiously veiled creature is more pointedly cruel in a way that the men are not similarly ravaged.
There is madness, murder and mayhem and it isn’t vultures of the avian sort that are watching this drama play out from the top of the cliffs. M. Night Shyamalan appears as one of the staff of this mysterious hotel. One can perhaps credit Shyamalan and casting for avoiding that trope of diversity dude dies first and this cast is wonderfully diverse yet that alone is not enough to recommend this film.
Other positives are that this film does have a Latino lead and Bernal is engaging and sympathetic as Guy. There’s a tender segment near the end between Guy and Prisca which is beautiful and Krieps portrayal of Prisca is the caring heart at the center of this film (“Stop wishing away this moment,” she advises her daughter early on). The message seems to be about time wasted on meaningless arguments. That meditative moment is crushed under the weight of too many ideas within a single film. An additional positive: Lee’s descent into a frightened and frightful crone is a lesson in how not to approach makeup for older women everywhere. For cinematographers, there’s a great between the ribs of a corpse framing shot.
Every minute of this 108-minute film will make you feel your age in triplicate. If you want to learn to appreciate life and find joy in it, get a dog. An hour for a dog is something like 15 human hours and when they leave you behind, they leave a hole in your life more fulfillingly crushing than time spent with this film. “Old” is time wasted watching people get basted.
“Old” opened on 23 July 2021.
NB: The Jack Nicholson-Marlon Brando film is 1976 Western “The Missouri Breaks.”