I was 5 years-old, looking out the window on a winter’s day when I wished aloud to my mother, “I wish I was older!” She admonished me, warning me that as I got older, the days went by faster. Nothing could be more accurate in describing M. Night Shayamalan’s thrilling drama “Old,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Alex Wolff, and Thomasin McKenzie.
The story centers upon the Kappa family comprised of Guy (Bernal), Prisca (Vicky Kreps), and their two young children Maddox (Alexa Swinton) age 11 and Trent (Nolan River), age 6. Guy and Prisca stumble upon a remote island vacation opportunity and upon their arrival to this unknown destination, there’s an air of “Fantasy Island” as they are greeted by the resort manager. The couple, obviously having issues in their relationship, are attempting to give the kids one last vacation before they share “the news.” Struggling with agreeing upon what to do that first day, the family accepts an invitation to visit a secret beach along with select other guests all of whom have their own secrets to share.
Dropping the guests off near a slot canyon and directing them to follow the path to one of the most exquisite beaches imaginable, their nightmare quickly begins as a young woman’s body is found and a man, Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) sits in the background staring into thin air. The group must work together to determine what has happened, all of whom contribute their own background and knowledge base to the situation, but before they can wrap their heads around the situation, more death occurs along with the revelation that the three children are becoming pre-teens and then teens before their very eyes.
The minutes tick by as do the years, 2 years for every 60 minutes, and the group slowly diminishes, but not before we learn about each of the individual’s backgrounds and secrets. To give away more than that would do disservice to Shayamalan’s signature surprise plot twist but there’s so much more to the film than that very important discovery near the end.
The story, based on the graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters, delves into the difficulties of the aging process as well as the regrets we all have. A poignant moment among many is when therapist Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) longs to see her sister with whom she had a falling out and realizing the ridiculousness of the disagreement as the precious gift of time slips through her fingers.
The youngsters go through a seemingly instant metamorphosis as Shayamalan shields us from the transition much the way a magician surprises you visually. Wolff and McKenzie are now Maddox and Trent as teens along with Kara (Eliza Scanlen) the daughter of cardio-thoracic surgeon Charles (Rufus Sewell) and his wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee). The teens’ psyches create subplots and stories within the larger picture making “Old” a psychologically thrilling mystery that holds your attention as your mind races ahead, searching for a possible conclusion…and you’ll never guess it.
Shayamalan’s screenplay gives each of the unique characters their own story to tell, all at different stages of life and backgrounds which allows them to contribute differently and connect to the viewer. The pace of the film accelerates as quickly as time on this island which becomes a race, but when do you succumb to the inevitable? The multiple layers of psychological and ethical as well as moralistic questions are numerous making this a film to discuss long after the credits roll.
Shayamalan’s story telling technique is the star in this film. He masterfully uses perspective and long camera takes which brings us into the group and the situation. Additionally, Shayamalan’s deliberate partial reveals give us small pieces of the puzzle, just enough to entice us to stick with it like a carrot being dangled and promising to make it worth our while…and it does. All of this along with a few stellar special effects provide plenty of gasp-worthy and jaw-dropping moments giving us that roller coaster feel we crave in a film.
While the story is the main event, the actors must rise to the occasion and while initially, the interactions between Guy and Prisca feel contrived and stilted, this is quickly corrected as the heart of the story becomes evident. It’s a difficult task particularly for the “children’s” parts, but Wolff and McKenzie retain their child-like innocence while acknowledging their fast-forward chronological age. These well-balanced performances are the foundation of the film, supporting the riveting difficulties of their older cast members’ changing lives.
Shayamalan’s “Old” provides us an opportunity to see how precious life and all of its experiences are as it asks several poignant questions with which we can all relate. With creative storytelling techniques, “Old” is a summer film you won’t want to miss.