Entertainment

/

ArcaMax

'Old' review: On this beach, you can leave the sunscreen back at the hotel

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

The aging process becomes a happily manageable time commitment in “Old,” the 14th feature from director M. Night Shyamalan and another one of his not-bad movies, in between his quite bad ones (”Lady in the Water”) and really good ones (”The Sixth Sense,” “Signs”). This one’s a tropical-beach scenario in which the scariest thing is the characters never, ever applying sunscreen. What’s the point? You gotta die of something. And soon!

Be warned: “Old” is no screw-tightening supernatural thriller, though the marketing campaign has spent millions to mislead on that score. Shyamalan’s script adapts the 2010 graphic novel “Sandcastle” from the French author and filmmaker Pierre Oscar Levy and the Swiss artist Frederik Peeters. The movie’s subtractions from the source material include nearly all of the dicey sexual urges involving rapidly aging children and adolescents determined to explore while there’s still time.

The additions involve Shyamalan’s nudges toward horror, if only in flashes. The graphic novel offers a far dreamier, more plaintive version of events. Also, the film adds a full load of narrative explanation regarding what’s really going on here.

For a well-paced while, “Old” doesn’t tell us, and the movie’s more effective the less we know. The opening introduces a Philadelphia family of four, en route to the mysterious oceanfront resort: nervous actuary father (Gael Garcia Bernal), preoccupied museum curator mother (Vicky Krieps) and their preteen kids (Alexa Swinton and Nolan River, for starters). After check-in, the resort’s unctuous manager murmurs something about a fabulously secluded beach nearby. It’ll be the excursion of a lifetime, he promises. (He obviously majored in hospitality with a minor in foreshadowing.)

One hotel shuttle ride later — writer-director Shyamalan plays the driver — the family’s on the beach with a few other lucky guests. There’s a tightly coiled, possibly sociopathic doctor (Rufus Sewell) and his shrill, image-obsessed wife (Abbey Lee Kershaw); a psychotherapist (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her partner, a nurse (Ken Leung); and, dropped off in an earlier van run, a famous rapper known as Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), looking desolate and lost and, while we’re at it, “Lost.”

The body of a woman, decades older than she was earlier that same day, washes up on the beach. Thus “Old” unfurls its simple, whole-cloth theme and variations. The children among the vacationers are in the grip of a frighteningly accelerated lifespan that seems destined to end by sundown. For the adults, the malevolent beach, approached through a slot canyon that acts as a kind of force field, the aging process is subtler, until Shyamalan turns to a more explicit realm of body horror, PG-13 division.

Shooting in the Dominican Republic, Shyamalan develops some clever concealment in many of the (semi-painful) dialogue scenes. We’ll see part of someone’s face, for example, and then the camera pivots and encircles the character or characters, while the source of their shock remains a secret to us for a few seconds. Then, bam: wrinkles! Your 6-year-old is 11! Wait, now she’s 16! And there’s a new actor stepping into the role!

The passage of time in a claustrophobic setting has long obsessed writers, artists, playwrights, filmmakers ranging from Luis Bunuel (”The Exterminating Angel” to Thornton Wilder (”The Long Christmas Dinner”). Few know it, but Erik Ehn’s experimental dazzler “No Time Like the Present” follows a young woman traveling home for the holidays, growing younger and younger as her train takes her ever-closer to her geographic childhood.

Is the central hook in “Old” enough? For many, I suspect, the answer will be not quite. The film, well-crafted when the characters quit reiterating the previous what’s-going-on-here? reiteration, could use a little more nerve and a little less plot machinery, designed to provide audiences with a happier ending than the graphic novel’s, and a lot of scientific folderol. Who ordered the folderol? I certainly didn’t.

 

There’s a moment when the doctor’s daughter (Eliza Scanlen) talks about all the lost time in her young, brief life — the high school prom that never was, the teen years robbed from her by a tropical vacation. It’s a clear nod to our pandemic lives. And unlike a lot of “Old,” the words carry a double meaning without turning the script supervision over to Captain Obvious.

———

‘OLD’

2.5 stars (out of 4)

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for disturbing images, brief strong language, partial nudity, strong violence and suggestive content)

Running time: 1:48

Where to watch: In theaters Friday

———

©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.