Old movie review: M. Night Shyamalan's beach horror builds towards twist ending that will divide opinion

Alex Wolff (front) and Gael García Bernal in a scene from beach horror Old (category: IIB), written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
PHOTO: Universal Pictures

3.5/5 stars

The master of the killer pitch, M. Night Shyamalan, is back with Old. Undoubtedly, as movie ideas go, this one is right up there with seeing dead people in The Sixth Sense.

A family of four head out for a luxurious holiday on a tropical island, though it soon becomes clear this may be the last time Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are together as a couple. She’s had a health scare and their relationship is fraying at the seams.

No sooner have they and their young kids, Maddox and Trent, settled in than the overly helpful manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) encourages them to visit a secluded beach on the other side of the island.

They are joined by several other tourists from the hotel, including an unpleasant doctor, Charles (Rufus Sewell), who has an odd fixation on Marlon Brando movie The Missouri Breaks , his high-maintenance wife Chrystal (Abby Lee), their 11-year daughter, and Charles’ aged mother (Kathleen Chalfant).

Almost immediately, strange things start happening. A body washes ashore – the lover of Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), a famous rap star who is also holidaying in this exclusive cove. Another character collapses and dies. And when they run for help, they black out. Something on the beach is holding them there. Then comes the big reveal: Maddox and Trent (now played by Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff) are suddenly teenagers.

Nikki Amuka-Bird (left) and Ken Leung in a still from Old.
PHOTO: Universal Pictures

It doesn’t take long before these holidaymakers realise an unnatural force is ageing them all rapidly. Half an hour in this sandy cove is the equivalent to one year – meaning you’ll likely be dead by morning.

Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Frederick Peeters and Pierre-Oscar Lévy, it’s a gripping concept – one that really hits its peak when Prisca has a tumour inside her that grows to the size of a grapefruit in a matter of seconds, as Charles operates right on the beach.

Of course, it’s one thing to suggest characters are ageing, it’s another thing to show it. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis makes good use of the nighttime gloom to disguise the heavy make-up Bernal, Krieps and other cast members endure, but the film’s middle third suffers from a dip in drama as characters sit around the campfire awaiting their fate.

(From left) Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Leung, Thomasin McKenzie, Rufus Sewell, Aaron Pierre, Vicky Krieps and Gael Garcia Bernal in a scene from Old.
PHOTO: Universal Pictures

The final third answers some questions – albeit in a haphazard way – and will leave some viewers satisfied, and others infuriated. Still, that’s what you get with Shyamalan: the unforgettable mixed with the mundane.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.