I’m kind of enjoying this third act of once-vaunted genre auteur M. Night Shyamalan’s career.
Having made his bones with The Sixth Sense back in ’99 he had had a run of successful high concept thrillers — Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), The Village (2004) — that were commercially successful even if the critical notes began to dip.
Then came The Lady in the Water (2006), a film I have never managed to sit all the way through. After that? The Happening (2008), probably the worst movie of his career. Then big-budget, phoned-in tosh like The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013) — which gives The Happening some real competition for bottom-of-the-league status. Usually, a couple of expensive studio pictures indicate a step up for a filmmaker, but the failure of these two looked like the death knell of ol’ mate Night’s A-list status.
But then a funny thing happened — he turned around and did The Visit (2015), a little five-million-dollar horror flick for Blumhouse, and it was pretty great. Split (2016) quickly followed, and not only did very well, but it also brought Shyamalan’s best film (don’t argue), Unbreakable, back into the public consciousness. Glass (2019) came, and while it wasn’t on par with its predecessors, it capped off the loose Unbreakable trilogy and, hell, I liked it.
Indeed, I like low-to-mid-budget Shyamalan much better than future-of-cinema big-budget Shyamalan; the constraints seem to suit his storytelling proclivities much better. Old, his latest offering, feels like the one we’re going to pull out down the track to show a “typical” Shyamalan film from this period. It’s not as good as The Visit or Split, but it isn’t weighted with expectation like Glass. It’s a solid little genre exercise.
Our focus is on a troubled family off for one last tropical vacation (remember vacations?) before mom and dad split, although they haven’t told the kids yet. Mom is Prisca (Vicky Krieps), dad is Guy (Gael García Bernal), the kids are 6-year-old Trent (Nolan River) and 11-year-old Maddox (Alexa Swinton). Arriving at their resort, they are offered access to a pristine private beach by the accommodating hotel manager (Gustaf Hammarsten, who could be Michael Smiley’s stunt double). Once there, they find a handful of other guests, including Rufus Sewell’s snobby doctor, Charles, and Abbey Lee as his Instagram influencer trophy wife, Chrystal, and, eventually, a disturbing mystery: they are suddenly and rapidly aging.