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Cumberbatch assumes he's the Fifth Estate

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Old disproves the adage “with age comes wisdom.”

Ten Little Tourists

Rufus Sewell gets old
Rufus Sewell gets old

It’s a decent premise. A family takes a vacation at an exclusive resort and is treated to a complimentary road trip to a remote and isolated beach. They’re left there with a handful of other guests and are expected to spend the day in what turns out to be a rather limited landscape: a strip of beach with the ocean on one side and an insurmountable rock wall uncomfortably imposing on the other.

In short order, things go south. A dead body surfaces. Then the kids age rapidly, going from precocious brats to pregnant in a matter of movie minutes.

Yes. This is the world of director M. Night Shyamalan, who adds to the creep factor by playing a resort shuttle driver who unceremoniously dumps his guests off at a beach entrance point and quickly scuttles away.

One by one, the number of guests dwindles. Some meet a grisly demise, some die peacefully, the victim of expedited advanced age.

Unfortunately, nothing happens that’s particularly scary. It’s not exactly thrilling, either. The one saving grace — at least one hopes — is a twist ending, the kind Shyamalan has built his reputation on, mimicking the surprises of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

This time, the ending actually makes a little bit of sense. And it even seems rather timely in this era of COVID. Alas, even that sense of something sensible doesn’t last. It quickly decomposes during the short drive from the theatre back home as holes are poked in the movie’s logic.

The Curious Case of M. Night Shyamalan

Given Old revolves around a situation in which characters age rapidly and their predicaments are further complicated by conditions such as blindness, deafness, epilepsy, calcium deficiencies, dementia, paranoia and other ailments, it’s time to step back and consider the curious case of M. Night Shyamalan.

His career is in reverse.

Back in 1999, Shyamalan’s third feature was career-defining. The Sixth Sense with Bruce Willis and Toni Collette featured some solid performances and a great curveball ending.

Ever since, though, it’s been at best a downward spiral of fits and starts, with Shyamalan consistently serving as both director and writer — and giving himself more and more distracting cameos that extend beyond the cutesy Hitchcock style to something that tries to position him as more of a Tarantino, complete with speaking parts. (Spoiler alert: Shyamalan isn’t a Tarantino; at least Tarantino packs some charisma in his on-screen appearances.)

There was reason to be optimistic when it was revealed Old was not an original screenplay by Shyamalan but instead based on a graphic novel, Sandcastle by Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters. But that hope was short-lived, squashed by the soul-crushing remembrance of the disastrous The Last Airbender (based on a popular Nickelodeon animated series) and the silliness of After Earth (based on a story by co-star Will Smith).

In Old, Shyamalan gives himself a role that actually — and this isn’t giving away much — lands his character in prison at the movie’s end. Wishful thinking has Shyamalan staying behind bars without the chance of parole. Perhaps in isolation, where he might learn how grating he can be.

On Golden Beach

Since Shyamalan had theoretically freed himself from the stress of creative responsibilities by finding some source material to adapt, it should’ve been a lock to put something worthwhile on the screen.

Instead, the result is rather baffling. It’s as if Shyamalan’s skills as a filmmaker and storyteller have atrophied.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Old is how bad it looks. Filmed on location in the Dominican Republic, the beach landscape is remarkably unappealing, with movement restricted to pretty small confines for what was supposed to be a day of fun in the sun.

Maybe something was missed in terms of camera logistics during the scouting process. Maybe cinematographer Mike Gioulakis — who also shot Shyamalan’s Split and Glass — forgot to bring a wide-angle lens. Some shots are no doubt supposed to be artsy and others are intended to play with the audience in anticipation of a “reveal” (in one case, the awkwardly placed camera stays locked for far too long). Regardless, so much of the movie is framed in such a weird way, in a fashion that simply doesn’t make good cinema sense.

Then there’s the bad acting and tin-eared dialogue.

Performances from quality actors like Rufus Sewell (Dark City) and Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien) come up lacking and even less generous comments can be made of the performances from so many others, including child actor Nolan River, whose appearance screams of a young M. Night Shyamalan (in actuality, the character has nothing to do with Shyamalan).

Club Dead

The kids age rapidly
The kids age rapidly

As the movie opens, there’s hope Old might do something unique. While the dialogue is sometimes forced and oftentimes poorly delivered, some lines hint at possible themes to come.

As a family of four is introduced, it’s made clear the husband and wife are struggling as a couple and — maybe — there’s also a health concern. The mother, Prisca (Vicky Krieps, The Last Vermeer) chastises her rambunctious son, “Stop wishing away this moment.” She advises her clan to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings.

But themes and deeper meanings aren’t on Shyamalan’s agenda. In fact, simply keeping the little things straight isn’t a concern.

At first, Prisca excitedly teases her husband, Guy (Bernal), about how she found the remarkable resort online. Later dialogue reveals some sort of convoluted nonsense about a receipt and a sweepstakes ultimately leading her to a website.

Again, an opportunity to say something or do something with a “don’t trust the internet” riff falls by the wayside.

In the hands of a more skilled storyteller who’s more interested in keeping the focus off of himself and on the story, this material would’ve taken on new life. It could’ve been a scary movie with scares, a thriller with thrills and an all-inclusive package that packs a punch while making a statement about the fragility of the human condition.

Instead, Shyamalan sticks unwaveringly to his old (pun intended) tricks. Unfortunately, those tricks lost their luster years ago, almost as quickly as the characters here age and turn to dust.