Film Review: Old (2021)
Interesting, but oddly uninvolving.
During a tropical vacation, a family discovers themselves trapped on an 'exclusive' island where time moves at an astonishingly rapid pace, reducing their life spans to a single day.
Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, this is an interesting and chilling central premise as it potentially explores multiple modern themes - right from body-image obsession, fear of ageing and even pandemic health fears (the word 'virus' is dropped several times).
The current world scenario is, in a way, perfectly suitable for a Shyamalan film. Barring his huge-budgeted misadventures, most Shyamalan films can be defined as 'monster-in-the-house' horror films, a genre where the majority of the action takes place in one setting. Lockdowns have ensured that people will be instantly keyed into the characters' experience of not being able to 'leave'.
But, I feel, that Shyamalan also fails to give any character to his locales. Whether it's the farm in Signs, the villain’s lair in Split, the house in The Visit, they all remain ineffective as places, as atmospheres that aid the story. The two-minute appearance of a house in The Blair Witch Project has more of a personality than the entire residential complex featured in The Lady in the Water. This could be
Though the film does, initially evoke the feeling of being 'trapped', another one of Shyamalan's failing has been that his characters remain tethered to his, often masterful mise-en-scene and come across as over-directed puppets than real people. Worse, there is no exploration of the themes that it seems loaded with.
Hence, 'Old' does not have the resonance that a story like this might have had for the world today.
If the atmosphere here achieves a level of menace, it is more because of the story surrounding it than any special effort. The caves, the rocks, the beach - nothing have anything distinctive about them. Maybe, that is the point, that the place is supposed to come across as normal but even when strange happenings escalate, the island remains curiously non-anomalous.
Where the film scores is in cataloguing the faces of its actors. This is not really surprising as Shyamalan has been an expert chronicler of faces. In his films, a close-up appears exactly at the right time and a simple pan conveys many things that might require pages of dialogue. Here, the director wants to capture each physical change and each emotional shift. That the plot itself requires the make-up and the actors to change, helps. There is a wonderful opportunity here that calls for subtle make-up changes and Shyamalan and his crew, including his international cast, are more than up to this task.
This is a disturbing story that is all horror stories at once. The characters eventually die, but the inevitability of their death is sped up. It’s like Final Destination series where Death itself took to finishing off the teenagers who had escaped, but with a timer attached.
Shyamalan is puzzling to me as a horror filmmaker. He is curiously coy about bodily fluids that keep most horror genres oiled. (Here, he creates an elaborate one-shot when the teenagers end having sex inside a tent. The camera is with them and then moves out, goes all over the beach, catching up with the others and by the time the teenagers come back into focus the girl is already pregnant. As noticed above, this is not inelegant but comes across as weirdly shy. All this skirting around the human body would have been fine if there was some psychological depth were being explored, but the film remains wanting on that front too.
As anyone would eagerly point out, the biggest disappointment of Shyamalan films has been his eagerness for a 'surprise ending' that are actually insipid and end up dissipating whatever dread has been conjured up earlier. The denouement here is the same.
I do not want to reveal too much but the penchant for clever framing and neatness gets into the way of what should have been a satisfying comeuppance (maybe Shyamalan realises the convolutions of the solution here and decided to keep it borderline ‘abstract’?). '
Old is not uninteresting, and for a year where the real world has offered more frights, it's just not very involving beyond a point.