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Review: 'Old' (2021) Dir. M. Night Shyamalan

Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Emun Elliott, Embeth Davidtz, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Francesca Eastwood and Gustaf Hammarsten


Based on the French-language graphic novel 'Sandcastle' by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, M. Night Shyamalan fuses the mysterious and the macabre for his latest thriller...

Married couple Guy (Bernal) and Prisca (Krieps) take their young children on a luxury, last-minute bargain holiday to a tropical resort. There, they are treated to luxury accommodation and hands-on service from the ever smiling staff.

The family, and a handful of other guests including Charles (Swell) and wife Chrystal (Lee) and Patricia (Amuka-Bird) and her husband are given access to a private beach for their sole use. But once on the beach, everything starts to change. Rapidly.

The guests find that their bodies are aging, growing and developing at a super-natural rate. Leading to a number of dangers presented from underlying health issues, the guests must fight to stay alive and work out how to get off a seemingly closed off beach before it is too late...

A group of very different people with very different backgrounds and personalities are brought together during a luxury holiday break. A nice ensemble cast include Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps as a troubled married couple, schizophrenic Rufus Sewell, vein Abbey Lee and kids Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie. They all play a vital part in the puzzle, and their many differences inject some great chemistry.

All seems to be going well, and you're questioning who is battling what demons, and who hides what secrets, but the hotel manager - played with great relish by Gustaf Hammarsten - invites a select few to a private secluded beach. That's where Shyamalan begins to unravel his twisted nightmare to shatter the idyllic paradise. Being a Shyamalan product, you straight away question the devices working behind the scenes and asking questions as to how and why things are happening and what (if any) supernatural power is at work. A few clues dripped here and there may have you guessing correctly.

Kudos to our younger cast who are thrown into some very sinister situations, but have to face it and act as the children they are but growing into adult bodies, such as Wolff and Eliza Scanlen.

As the title suggests, this is a beach that ages those on it. Young children grow into adult bodies, injuries are naturally repaired in seconds and life-long illness takes it's toll in mere minutes.

The beach is playing with the people thrown on there, and when they try to leave, they just end up going straight back via blackouts. Seeing these transformations, reactions and unexplained developments all add to the unnerving, unnatural effect of a contained story and small group of cast members. This doesn't have a wider sense of franchise building such as Unbreakable or an extra-terrestrial global threat as The Happening, but manages to introduce a new style of Shyamalan horror / thriller that doesn't replicate what has come before.

Shyamalan's script factors in what it means to, really, be human and be old. Granted the passage of time is rather dramatic, but strip all that away and it faces what people do to deal with losing their looks, their ego, their strength, sight, hearing...things we take for granted are thrust back in our face to look at how we cope when they are slowly taken away. It's not a story that preaches, but equally isn't afraid to ask a few questions along the way and have us appreciate what we hold dear.

Thanks to being isolated in one sun-kissed location, it makes for pleasant enough viewing an an easy enough plot to follow. The simplicity of the beach and surrounding rockfaces allow for some beautiful shots, and if anything the simplicity of it makes the concept more sinister. The use of some mild distorted, unedited long takes, framing and actor make-up and prosthetics all add a sense of unease to the story with the creepy undertones that are laid out from the start, accompanied with an unsettling score by Trevor Gureckis.

As to be expected, prepare for the twist in the ending and final revelation of proceedings that may or may not please everyone. But, something about it doesn't seem as daft as one could imagine. Yet, that's the experience of taking a Shyamalan ride.

A far more humane, stripped back thriller that doesn't rely on excess or scares in order to tell a chilling story, set across a beautiful landscape. Stamped with a trademark Shyamalan twist, this is an entertaining trip to the beach.

'Old' is a co-production between Perfect World Pictures and Blinding Edge Pictures

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