The actors all seem like they would have been willing to go on that more surreal journey. Most of the ensemble finds a way to push through a script that really uses them like a kid uses sand toys on a beach, moving them around before they wash away with the tide. Stand-outs include Sewell’s confused menace, McKenzie’s palpable fear (she nails that the best, by far, understanding she’s in a horror movie more than some of the others), and the grounded center provided by Bernal and Krieps.
A director who often veers right when he should arguably go left, Shyamalan and his collaborators manage their tone here better than he has in years. Yes, the dialogue is clunky and almost entirely expositional regarding their plight and attempts to escape it, but that’s a feature, not a bug. “Old” should have an exaggerated, surreal tone and Shyamalan mostly keeps that in place, assisted greatly by some of the best work yet by his regular cinematographer Mike Gioulakis. The pair are constantly playing with perception and forced POV, fluidly gliding their camera up and down the beach as if it’s rushing to catch up with all the developments as they happen. Some of the framing here is inspired, catching a corner of a character’s head before revealing they’re now being played by a new actor. It’s as visually vibrant a film as Shyamalan has made in years, at its best when it’s embracing its insanity. The waves are so loud and the rock wall so imposing that they almost feel like characters.
Sadly, the film crashes when it decides to offer some sane explanations and connect dots that didn’t really need to be connected. There’s a much stronger version of “Old” that ends more ambiguously, allowing viewers to leave the theatre playing around with themes instead of unpacking exactly what was going on. The conversation around Shyamalan often focuses on his final scenes, and I found the ones in “Old” some of his most frustrating given how they feel oppositional to what works best about the movie. When his characters are literally trying to escape the passage of time, as people do when their kids are growing up too fast or they receive a mortality diagnosis, “Old” is fascinating and entertaining. It’s just too bad that it doesn’t age into its potential.