M. Night Shyamalan still stays strong as the most creative and ambitious “schlock” director of our time…
…or at least in the case of his new original motion picture Old, he is during its first two acts. When it comes to my history with M. Night Shyamalan, I’m a bit of a basic bitch, often regarding phase one of his work in regards to The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000) as great films, and even enjoying Signs (2002) but seeing The Village (2004) as the low-note send off before phase two which consists of Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013): films that defined his beefs between balancing laughable think-pieces with blockbuster formula, all resulting in pure cinematic atrocities. When entering his modern era of phase three, however, there is a “semi-comeback” occupancy to its array of mediocre entries that have intelligent ideas framed in often unintelligent execution. Old may be a fitting capper if this were to be the last movie in this phase of the both upheld and infamous filmmaker’s career because it has about the worst plot that this man has written since his phase 2 inventory yet backed by some of his best ideas thus far.
For a good chunk of the first and maybe the second act of Old, I actually found myself held by Shyamalan’s divine mixture of stupid, convoluted occurrences or awkwardly worded dialogue and his admirable emotional relevancy derived from a passionate script full of thematic drives coming together. There’s something fairly entertaining and strangely drawing in regards to his inflated execution. I mean, for example, the “experimental” camera wandering and tedious back and forth panning used to elicit anxiety and anticipation from the audience had me f**kin’ balling my eyes out; it was just *mwah! magnifico! unintentional humor at its perfection!* To me, this is a situation where these ambitious decisions may not pan out in the way the visionary wants it to appear in the name of seriousness, but it does become worthwhile in its own right of absurd engagement.
If you’re not familiar already, the premise of Old is that a group of vacationers find themselves stuck on a beach encompassed by mountains that makes them age very quickly. Honestly, I can see a masterpiece being made with this kind of premise, and in a few instances the genuine dread of the narrative’s situation can seem very confusing and perverted in both us and the eyes of our characters which seems to be the appropriate manner something such as death or better yet, a fleeting overpass of innocence and stages in our lives with especially the adolescent victims should feel like. I mean, it’s far better than what The Happening (2008) did to evoke surreal horror from what I can remember. These gut-churning havocs, however, are fused often with again the fortuity of Shyamalan’s tonally contradicting ambitions, evidently demeaning them, so that would unfortunately have to be the drawback of this partnership of schlocky fun and what appears to be some psychologically impactful potential.
As we make our way to the final act of Old however, I must admit, Shyamalan still can’t help himself from including loads of plot instances that seem as if they were drafted from a kindergartener’s mind roaming free off into limitless story-land. First off, if you’re expecting a twist in this movie, it will probably be the first guess you have once those opening thirty minutes pass by because it is just the most 101 obvious choice that you could think of to justify the main affair at hand. Second off, the climactic journey we take to get to the conclusion with that twist is just a last-minute McGuffin galore orgy; it’s embarrassing on a whole other level even for Shyamalan standards, and not particularly in a “so-bad-it’s-good” approach which made those first two acts fairly riveting. If grading acts was a thing in my book, I’d genuinely give the third act of this movie an “F”; it’s that pathetic.
This isn’t saying a lot, but Old is the worst of the new Shyamalan material in terms of The Visit (2015), Split (2016), and Glass (2019), but that may be because it hinders a bit on the familiar dark, terroristic yet overcompensating excessiveness of the director’s failure phase from 2006-2013, for which can easily be summed up as a catalog of films that try too hard to be poignant. It’s as if his styles throughout his career are slowly melding into a helix of disagreeing quarrels, and at this point, I wish the dude would just either get a writing partner who can help organize/enhance his ideas or just go full looney on us and truly embrace being the most enjoyable schlock-maker in our more open world of today where that sort of material can now be seen as commendable art. But, as we know, Shyamalan usually has to aim for substance, so I don’t see that secondary option happening anytime soon.
“Old” will be released in theaters July 23rd.