Reviews: 'Old' and 'Pig': Nicolas Cage Back at His Best, M. Night Shyamalan Not
There was a time when I thought "Lady in the Water" was M. Night Shyamalan's worst movie. (It's hard to beat the concept of a mermaid secretly living in an apartment-house swimming pool.) But then came "The Happening" (angry vegetation responding to the threat of Global Warming), to which the worst-of title immediately passed. Then came a frustrating tie -- the dreadful double-header of "The Last Airbender" and "After Earth." That was a tough call (although I'd give "After Earth" the edge).
Now there's a new boss in town. It's Shyamalan's latest movie, called "Old," and it's hard to imagine that it might ever be surpassed in the area of awfulness.
Not coming up with his own stories is usually a good idea for Shyamalan, but here it makes no difference. "Old" is based on (or "inspired by," a classic dodge) a graphic novel by French writer Pierre Oscar Levy. The book, called "Sandcastle," is about a Mediterranean beach where time mysteriously speeds up so fast that visitors find themselves living out their whole lives in a single day (with death signaling the end of their vacations). The author offers no explanation for this place -- what it is, what caused it -- which makes the story's inherent horror all the more horrifying.
But Shyamalan is burdened with a PG-13 rating, which doesn't encourage downbeat stories or eerie, open-ended conclusions. Everything must be explained, and neatly wrapped up at the end. So, the writer-director is compelled to invent stuff, which is no longer his strong suit. Thus, the entire ending is an awkward fabrication, nowhere even suggested in the novel and unpersuasive in its every particular. And the rest of the script is a fiesta of infelicities. There's an English rapper (Aaron Pierre) on the fatal beach, and Shyamalan, possibly not a rap enthusiast, has decided to call him "Mid-Sized Sedan." Then there's the persistently daft dialogue, which batters us like flying debris in a hurricane wind:
"Something is going on with time on this beach," says one character, stupidly.
"Somebody will figure this out," says another. "We just have to wait for them."
"I went to private school," says Mid-Sized Sedan.
There are a number of good actors imprisoned in this movie, playing either the doomed adults or their children (at various stages of physical development). Gael Garcia Bernal is the nominal lead, accompanied by Vicky Krieps ("Phantom Thread") as his wife and Alex Wolff ("Hereditary" and "Pig") as one of their kids. Also in evidence are "Lost" alumnus Ken Leung, Thomasin McKenzie ("Leave No Trace"), Eliza Scanlen ("Little Women") and -- the movie's creepiest character -- mad-eyed Francesca Eastwood (daughter of Clint, half-sister of Scott). All of these performers must have been hoping for something much different when they signed on Shyamalan's dotted line. As one character here says to another after viciously slashing him with a knife, "Sorry."