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MOVIES: Old - Review

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M. Night Shyamalan can be a director with hits and misses, but largely is someone who I've had positive experiences with and am always excited for a new project by him. Unbreakable is still one of the best superhero movies ever made and The Sixth Sense is a classic horror film that is in turn, one of the genre’s best. Lady in the Water and Avatar: The Last Airbender on the other hand, are rare misfires from a director usually in top form – someone who I’ve become a massive fan of – The Visit, Glass and Split are all favourites of mine. And I’m happy to report that he’s back to top form in Old, one of the most inventive, original and exciting mainstream blockbuster movies of the year so far – a real triumph that sends you into a puzzle box that you can’t really escape from. Whilst not a true original product, it's refreshing to see something a world away from yet another superhero fair.

There’s a beach that screws with your aging process, and that’s all that you’re getting plot-wise. A group of families staying at a hotel resort find themselves there without any means of escape, and every second they stay there literally costs a year of their lives. Tension is at its highest as the characters age – and everything stays the same around them. The first thing this movie does is make you care about the characters; you’re introduced to a family who clearly have their differences and kids who are right at the centre of it. It’s a simple set up, but as Old escalates in tension – it’s anything but.

This is M. Night Shyamalan at his most, pure unrestrained excess anchoring the narrative firmly in place – it’s unlike few modern blockbusters of the past twenty years, a straight-forward enclosed narrative set around a beach where nothing is as it seems. It feels like something out of The X-Files, or The Twilight Zone, taking a fascinating hook of a premise – a beach that makes you old – and putting ordinary people in the middle of it and watching them unravel. It strips these characters back to their bare essentials as they’re forced to reflect on the problems of an entire lifespan in a matter of hours – where every hour is several years. It’s not entirely bleak, there’s room for humour in this affair – but it’s few and far between, and the zingers are chosen carefully. It’s more like gallows humour rather than anything – these characters very quickly figure out the problems that come with being on a beach from which there is no escape from, and time is running out.

Well plotted, well-executed and smartly written - even the cheesy dialogue feels intentional - from start to finish, the tight pacing is one of Old’s biggest strengths. Scarcely a minute is wasted. The casting is spot on – Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps playing opposite each other are a force to be reckoned with displaying clear emotional chemistry, and Rufus Sewell is terrific as a Doctor who spirals out of control at a terrifying rate. Shyamalan drafts in a reliable stable of promising actors to play different characters at different ages – Hereditary’s Alex Wolff and Jojo Rabbit’s Thomasin McKenzie are both phenomenal at playing aged up characters with no life experiences but different memories – and Eliza Scanlen too, is excellent as her character adjusts to a horrifying new experience that is thrust upon her instantly. It almost feels like a social experiement - these characters from different backgrounds with different expierences are forced together in a bid to work out what's going on and where. Stripped down terror becomes the watchword of the day - after an idealistic dream location for a holiday, everything goes sideways fast.

There’s a lot of homages from everything from J-Horror to Lost in this film - and obvious echoes of Danny Boyle's The Beach, but it all feels carefully chosen, existing as its own film that does not remind you of anything else – because there is nothing else like it. Old is one of the most daring and unique movies of the year – a film that practically demands a rewatch at the earliest opportunity and I certainly will be watching it again before it leaves cinemas. Yes, it’s silly – and Shyamalan is at his most in the same way Christopher Nolan was at his absolute most making Tenet last year, but there’s something about Old that is just the filmmaker firing on all creative cylinders. What's more is that everything looks amazing too - the cinematography provided by Mike Gioulakis is next-level stunning on a visual level, and it's a pure treat for the eyes.

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