Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin MacKenzie, Abbie Lee
Written by: M. Night Shyalaman, (based on the graphic novel “Sandcastles”) Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters
Running Time: 108 mins
Release date: 23rd July 2021
I remember when The Sixth Sense came out and how excited I was. A new major talent had arrived who took us on a human drama with a supernatural spin and pulled off a mind-bending twist. He managed to do the same with his second movie, Unbreakable. The wheels started to come off after his third film, Signs and then his career took a downfall, where ludicrous plots and irritating twists seem to be his trademark. A revival in recent years has put his back on the map of being mildly excited about new material. Old is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, and sadly, it seems he is heading down that same old road again.
Guy and Prisca decide to take their two children on a family holiday to sort out the family difficulties. Arriving at a beautiful resort, they are persuaded by the hotel manager to take a trip to an exclusive nature reserve, an idyllic coastal area. Joined by other hotel residents, it becomes apparent that they cannot get out of this place. It also has an unusual power: you age quicker than usual. As the group try to find a way out, it throws up a series of conflicts and events that could leave them all dead.
The basic premise is interesting. A paradise is not what it seems. Sounds ideal for an episode of The Twilight Zone. Instead, M. Night takes that idea, based on a graphic novel called “Sandcastles”, and drags it out for 108 minutes. Throw in some characters that would sit nicely in a disaster movie, the odd dilemma, plenty of set pieces, and a camera that zooms around plays with framing and has offset close-ups, and you have a film that promises so much but delivers very little.
M. Night pops into the box of character traits to form the group. There’s the family just holding it together; the arrogant doctor with the trophy wife who is losing his memory; a nurse and his wife who has seizures and a mysterious rapper who is on the island as they arrive and may have killed his girlfriend. This dead body is one of the first clues that things are not right in paradise as her body decomposes within hours and not years. These characters, which are not connected, have to work together to find a way of escaping. Yet, they are being affected by the speeding time lapse. At no point, however, does M. Night gives any room for the characters to develop. They are who they are, and that’s that.
While the subtle early moments that things may be amiss, including the kids finding their swimming clothes, are getting tighter, these are replaced by less subtle and more bizarre actions. The young boy, who was six when he entered paradise, is now a horny teenager who somehow got another girl pregnant without prior knowledge of sex education. A character with a tumour finds it is growing bigger by the minute. Thankfully, they have a doctor AND a nurse to remove it, even though each cut heals itself instantly. A fact that seems to go astray when one of the characters is stabbed to death?
Various attempts to escape are explored but never successful, allowing M. Night to give us another body horror or shock moment. Unfortunately, as the characters inject very little empathy, these moments seem wasted. It has long scenes of dialogue that are often laughable instead of intense. As the company are slowly bumped off like some uninventive Agatha Christie, where the island did it, we head towards M. Night’s legendary final act. A twist may come at you that you either had telegraphed initially or lacks any real connection to the events that have previously occurred. This one is so illogical (and I won’t give it away) you know that M. Night doesn’t know what to do with the original concept.
The performances never rise over that of fine. Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps, who are so good in Phantom Thread, are left with characters that never excite or interest. Rufus Sewell chews the scenery up a the doctor, while Alex Wolff and Thomasin MacKenzie do their best to inject life into their roles. Sadly, the script lets them down every time.
Old isn’t the worst of M. Night’s catalogue, but it isn’t the greatest either. If he had made an episode for a TV serial, it would be watchable. A feature stretches the story to the point of breaking. What you end up with is an illogical tale with massive plot holes and an ending far from satisfactory. Not good enough.
2 out of 5