OLD movie poster | ©2021 Universal Pictures

OLD movie poster | ©2021 Universal Pictures

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Eliza Scanlen, Aaron Pierre, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliott, Alexa Swinton, Gustaf Hammarsten, Kathleen Chalfant, Francesca Eastwood, Nolan River, Luca Faustino Rodriguez, Mikaya Fisher, Kallen Jude
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan, based on the graphic novel SANDCASTLE by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: July 23, 2021

OLD doesn’t go where we might expect, and that’s pretty much a good thing. The new film from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, based on the graphic novel SANDCASTLE by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, is advertised as a horror story about a vacation destination where the guests age rapidly.

That’s broadly true, although it’s not all the guests, and not the whole establishment. Only certain visitors to the tropical Anamika Resort are directed to a private, secluded beach.

Insurance actuary Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and museum curator Prisca (Vicky Krieps) have brought their two children, eleven-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and six-year-old Trent (Nolan River), to Anamika for what’s supposed to be a fun long weekend. Guy and Prisca are doing their best to hide their relationship problems from the kids, along with the fact that Prisca may have a health issue.

The resort’s solicitous manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) suggests the private beach to our family. It’s not as exclusive as they expect. Another family, consisting of Karen-esque surgeon Charles (Rufus Sewell), his appearance-conscious wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), their six-year-old daughter Kara, and Charles’s elderly mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) share the van with them. The beach can only be accessed by a walk beneath cliffs so high that they effective form a cave system.

Shortly thereafter, another couple, Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Jarin (Ken Leung), arrive on the beach, and a rap star (Aaron Pierre) is already there.

The first clue that something is wrong is Trent’s discovery of a recently deceased corpse. Then there’s the fact that trying to leave causes those who attempt it to black out. Finally, the erstwhile six-year-olds now appear to be eleven (Luca Faustino Rodriguez as Trent, Mikaya Fisher as Kara), and Maddox (Thomasin McKenzie) is now sixteen.

The questions are, what on Earth is going on here, and can anyone escape before they die of old age?

The answer to the first query comes in parts. The resolution to the mystery is satisfying without being obvious, even though characters do make some large deductive leaps. Some things don’t make sense, and some of the rules seem to contradict themselves. (Why do some knife cuts heal at once and others don’t?) Still, the plot mechanics click along with efficiency and unpredictability.

Shyamalan wants to do some character exploration here, and he’s assembled a mostly fine cast, with Krieps, Bernal, Bird and Leung all doing strong work. The premise presents us with a matter worthy of serious metaphysical examination.

But the timeframe is so super-accelerated that it feels like the people literally don’t have enough moments to process and react to their situation. The youngsters feeling themselves grow up have some intriguing moments, but there’s so much going on that no one aspect of OLD really gets its due.

OLD emerges as a popcorn movie with some unfulfilled ambitions. It’s summer sci-fi fun, but it perhaps needed a miniseries length to explore what it seems  to want to be about.

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