Movie Review: It’s been two years since M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old” hit movie theaters and it still feels as fresh as that day. Shyamalan’s old school mixture of poignant commentary and rich thrills combine into his best film since 2002, and one that stays immensely rewatchable.
M. Night Shyamalan is coming back, baby! The master of suspense and thrills is returning to cinemas this week with his new film “Knock at the Cabin.” I’ve used this movie as an excuse to dive into some of his works that I’ve either not seen before, or wanted to return to to see how they’ve aged in my estimation. “Old” was one of these films. I remembered liking it and regretting not seeing it on the big screen, but I felt it quickly left my brain once I moved on to the next project. I wanted to see if those thoughts would stay the same on a rewatch.
“Old” indicates a significant return to form for M. Night Shyamalan, one that I’m hoping continues into “Knock at the Cabin.” I hope I don’t end up regretting writing that, but I have some semblance of confidence that Shyamalan will continue to deliver entertaining genre efforts that know exactly what an audience wants. “Old” capitalizes on nearly every ounce of its central premise.
The body switches and make-up effects are immaculately well executed. On this rewatch, I was completely enamored with how the effects team slowly ages Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps as Guy and Prisca. Abbey Lee, who plays the calcium-deficient Chrystal, has perhaps the most terrifying arc of anyone involved, and each step along the way compounds the issue until her gruesome ending. Given the final twist of “Old,” Shyamalan is awarded so much room to work with and he nails every step along the way.
And on my recent rewatch, I realized just how deep Shyamalan’s central premise is really is – the innate terror of life passing by too quickly for you to realize. He sets up character exposition wonderfully in the opening sequences at the hotel, but by the time the crew of characters realize the horrible position they’re in, suddenly none of it matters. Shyamalan taps into what truly does: spending time with your family and caring for one another through personal struggles and illnesses.
While I like a handful of Shyamalan’s efforts that predate this one, it hasn’t been since “Signs” that he gets as personal and thematically rich as he does here (“The Village” works in stretches, but strains a bit too hard for its finale; “The Visit” unloads all its density on to Kathryn Hahn, who spends most her time on a computer screen. Both great movies though!). Shyamalan works best when working with families, specifically broken ones, and few of the families he’s worked with offer as much physical and emotional vulnerability as the ones in “Old.”
I love how M. Night Shyamalan still sticks to genre, though, even with how primal and relatable some of his interests are in “Old.” The suspense is thrilling as the doomed vacationers slowly realize the reality of the harsh beach they’re on, and as the night grows darker, the tension only increases. Upon further examination, I’m shocked Shyamalan was able to turn this in with a PG-13 rating given how violent some of these deaths are – specifically the aforementioned demise of calcium-deficient Chrystal, some truly gnarly stuff.
Other standout performances include Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie as a slowly maturing brother and sister, Rufus Sewell as a surgeon suffering from schizophrenia, and M. Night Shyamalan himself as the one that drops the crew off at the beach. I love how meta that moment becomes as Shyamalan proceeds to torture his characters for the remaining film’s runtime. He leans into his own impulses better here than in some of his previous efforts that just didn’t work – I thought a bit about “The Happening” during my rewatch and thought about how that was glaringly too campy. “Old” gets the mixture just right and it pays off for the genre auteur.
“Old” is also one of Shyamalan’s more rewatchable endeavors in recent memory. Although “The Visit” is significantly funnier than this one, the documentarian camerawork slightly diminishes your ability to engage with it beyond its genre iconography. “Split” feels hollow past the James McAvoy performance. “Old” is his best balance between being audience pleasing, slightly cheesy, and brutally gory. A real directorial performance by one of the business’ best if he has his A-game. And I would argue he’s giving that A-game with “Old.”
I look back at my rankings and critical judgements of 2021 as a year in film and I wonder why I passed over “Old” so quickly (for context, I placed it no. 46 last time I updated that list – right after “The Night House” and right before “A Quiet Place Part II”). Although maybe not the best that that year had to offer, it’s certainly one of the more interesting objects of fascination for me in retrospect. I thought that year had a bunch of unique auteur passion projects, but not many that I’ve had much fun returning to. I had fun returning to “Old,” and it makes me want to do another redux of my list simply to add it. Maybe I’ll have to resort to doing that in my own conscience. Oh well.