Saying you’re not a fan of Mr. M Night Shyamalan’s later work is a pretty basic opinion these days. No one enjoyed The Last Airbender; and while The Happening is generally pointed to as his worst film, I will go to my grave saying Lady in the Water is objectively worse. So I did not have high hopes for Old when I first heard about it. And now that I’ve seen it, I can say that it’s another disappointment from a man who had so much potential. What a twist.
A family of four is on vacation at a swanky resort and are trying to ignore the fact that the parents (Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps) are on the verge of divorce and the mom has a benign tumor. They get shuttled to a remote beach–oh hai, seemingly mandatory cameo by M Night himself–where they meet up with a couple groups of other people. But the discovery of a dead woman ruins the mood, with a doctor (Rufus Sewell) blaming a rapper named… sigh… “Mid-Sized Sedan.” Some kind of force field is making sure the beachgoers can’t leave, and soon enough the parents start to notice their kids have visibly grown in just a few hours. In fact, they’re all aging rapidly! The children are now teenagers (one of whom is Alex Wolff from Hereditary). They are filled with teenage hormones and a lack of sex education, so soon enough one of the girls is giving birth. The baby dies almost instantly due to a lack of feeding since time is passing incredibly fast for it as well. Soon enough the various medical conditions of the adults start to plague them. Sewell’s character develops Alzheimer’s which makes him kill Mid-Sized Sedan. Wait, they say he has violent schizophrenia? That’s wrong, but whatever. Krieps’ tumor becomes aggressive and has to be cut out, which is complicated by her body trying to instantly heal itself. A girl tries to escape by climbing rocks and falls to her death, a guy drowns, one lady has a fatal epileptic seizure, and Sewell is killed after he attacks the aging survivors and is cut with a rusty knife, leading to a near instantaneous deadly infection. Also, in the best and scariest scene in the entire movie, one woman with a calcium deficiency has lost her mind and is chasing some kids (now young adults), breaking her bones and having them instantly heal in the wrong position, over and over again. Soon enough the only survivors are Bernal and Krieps’s kids, now played by Emun Elliot and Embeth Davidtz. And then… the movie gets dumb.
While Elliot was just a kid, he made friends with the hotelier’s son and the two traded coded messages looking like they’re the Zodiac Killer. It’s only when the siblings are the only ones left that he remembers this and decodes a note that says the hotelier hates the nearby coral. The pair suspect this is because it’s the only way out of their trap, so they dive down and find a tunnel. Davidtz gets caught on some coral and the scene cuts, leaving their fate ambiguous. We then go to the hotelier and find out what’s actually happening: the beach has some bizarre properties to age anyone there roughly a year for every half hour, and the hotel is a front for a pharmaceutical company that gives sick people a free trip, secretly gives them an experimental drug, and then drops them off at the beach to see if the drug is effective against their condition. And the woman with the seizure went hours without one, so that’s ready for the next phase of testing! But the siblings survived, giving evidence of the beach and various missing persons to a cop, who makes some calls to bust the whole operation. But wait! That’s too good an ending! So then… the movie gets really dumb.
We flashback to the siblings in the coral tunnel and see that Davidtz got unstuck thanks to a random earthquake, or something, that freed her. We already knew they survived, so I don’t see what showing us how they did it matters. And then, we get the cop flat out telling the siblings–and therefore the audience–that all the bad people got arrested. What a happy ending! What a departure from the source material!
I think I’ve buried the lede enough. Old is based on a French and Swiss graphic novel called Sandcastle, which I covered today over on my comic blog, Chwineka Reads. I had sought out the comic when I learned it was the inspiration. It’s a weird and depressing mystery where nothing is fully explained and it has such a downer ending. And I really liked it! I know not giving any answers would bother a lot of people, but the characters never find out why they’re aging rapidly, so it would make sense that the reader wouldn’t either. But Old not only decided to answer all the mysteries, but bent over backwards multiple times to give this story a happy ending. Look, I’m not saying an adaptation needs to be 100% faithful, but if you’re going to change the ending so much, you damn well better make something good out of it. And Old did not. The happy ending just feels so tacked on in such a clumsy way that it sours the whole experience. Not that this was a super good movie before that, but still.
So how did the graphic novel differ? Well, if you want to read more, head on over to my other blog to find out! Oh yeah, I’m shameless with the promotions.
Chwineka Reads: Sandcastle (2013)
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