Old reviews roundup: Is M. Night Shyamalan's latest flick one for the ages?
The reviews are in for M. Night Shyamalan's latest mind-boggling movie, Old.
The film tells of museum curator Prisca (Phantom Thread's Vicky Krieps) and her insurance-actuary husband, Guy (Gael García Bernal), who go on vacation to a tropical island to spend some quality time with their two young children at a family resort. Even before we get into Shyamalan's twists and turns, the getaway isn't all surf lessons and sunset gazing, as six-year-old Trent (Nolan River) and tween Maddox (Alexa Swinton) can enough sense that something's up in their parents' marriage. But when they opt to spend the day at a remote beach, marital woes are the least of anyone's concerns when things start to go inexplicably bonkers.
But does Shyamalan pull off the intrigue and deliver Sixth Sense kind of genius or is this flick more on Lady in the Water's level? Here's what the critics had to say:
Entertainment Weekly (Leah Greenblatt): Those are perhaps the biggest hazards of a Shyamalan project; when he is good, he is very very good, and when he is bad, he is corny. The cast, particularly Kreps and Bernal — and later in the film, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, and Little Women's Eliza Scanlen — works hard to find the human stakes within their Twilight Zone nightmare, and the ideas the script floats about the relativity of time and character-as-destiny would be intriguing even if it only followed one of them.
Variety (Owen Gleiberman): Old, like most Shyamalan movies, has a catchy hook along with some elegant filmmaking gambits. But instead of developing his premise in an insidious and powerful way, the writer-director just keeps throwing a lot of things at you. That nude swimmer was the paramour of a famous rapper named Mid-Size Sedan (Aaron Pierre), who Charles the surgeon wastes no time accusing of murder. The movie cues us to think that's a racist idea, yet isn't above exploiting it for suspense. And why is the rapper's nose bleeding? Charles and his high-maintenance wife, Chrystal (Abbey Lee), have an 11-year-old daughter of their own, Kara (Mikaya Fisher), and before long she and Trent, who are now teenagers, have hooked up, and she has gotten pregnant. And where are Guy and Prisca in all this? Bizarrely, they don't look any older. Reference is made to wrinkles, and after a while we glimpse a few, but basically these two — and the other adults — just kind of remain the people they were, which seems extremely odd in a movie that is otherwise about such dramatic developments.
The New York Times (Glenn Kenny): Shyamalan's fluid filmmaking style, outstanding features of which are an almost ever-mobile camera and a bag of focus tricks, serves him especially well here. Sometimes the camera will pan back and forth in a ticktock pendulum fashion (get it?) and return to its starting point to reveal a terrifying change. The way he switches out his actors as their characters age is seamless. (The filmmaker's work in the verbal department is not so felicitous. He names Pierre's rap star "Mid-Sized Sedan"; early on one character complains to another, "You're always thinking about the future, and it makes me feel not seen.")
If old age is carrion, it's also, as a "Citizen Kane" character put it, the one disease you don't look forward to curing, which provides the impetus for the movie's finale. While Shyamalan is often cited for his tricky endings, it's arguable that he doesn't quite stick the landing with this one. He adds to the story a dollop of that much-venerated Hollywood commodity, hope, and also doles out some anti-science propaganda that couldn't be more unwelcome at this particular time in the real world.
The Hollywood Reporter (John Defore): Long before he gets to his trademark twisty ending (not a bad one, this time), Shyamalan uses his sci-fi premise to deliver some predictable ironies. Any viewer will guess how rapid aging will treat the doctor's stick-thin trophy wife (Abbey Lee). But those familiar with the director's beloved Philadelphia and its engrossing Mütter Museum of medical oddities may resent a plot point that museum surely inspired: Without giving anything away, a heartbreaking exhibit there tells a true story of deformity that is transformed into a grotesque cartoon here — a sight gag that may be the last straw for viewers struggling to take the sometimes clunky screenplay seriously.
The Telegraph (Tim Robey): TK DOES ANYONE HAVE AN ACCOUNT? CAN'T ACCESS IT.
Empire (Joshua Rothkopf): Is there a twist? No director has ever saddled himself more with the phony heft of third-act surprises. You won't read any spoilers here, but in making Old, Shyamalan, 50, seems at a midpoint. His new movie constantly threatens to be better than it is — deeper, more metaphysical, less beholden to gimmicks. Defiantly, it sticks to being about a haunted beach. And that's okay. But someone should tell this filmmaker, so willing to waste time with elaborate contraptions, that the clock's ticking.
The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw): The elements of silliness and deadly seriousness are nicely balanced and although I wasn't absolutely sure about the ending, which has maybe too neat a bow tied on it, this is just very enjoyable and I was on the edge of my seat, not knowing whether to flinch or laugh, though I did both. I loved the way the kids grew up while remaining trapped in a child's bafflement and resentment. Time raced by while I was watching it.
L.A. Times (Justin Chang): What he doesn't do is come close to generating so much as a flurry of real suspense or terror — a failing that can be chalked up to the surprising ineptitude of the filmmaking. This is dispiriting to report, given that Shyamalan's undersung signature as a storyteller has always been his superior eye, his skill at patiently building tension and suspense inside the frame. Even when he loses his narrative way or gets bogged down in metaphysical portent, his visual command seldom abandons him.
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Old is in theaters now.
Inspired by the graphic novel Sandcastle, M. Night Shyamalan's latest is a sort of Benjamin Un-Buttoning on the beach — a metaphysical mystery that ultimately settles for something more like supernatural camp.