In Old, the director confronts the everyday, existential terror of life passing by too quickly.
M. Night Shyamalan has been making Hollywood thrillers for more than 20 years, and despite his career’s ups and downs, he’s never lost the power to wring tension out of the simplest situations: someone opening a door, a shape walking across a TV screen, a scowl shifting into a smile. Early on in Old, his latest macabre roller-coaster ride, a trio of children play freeze tag on a beach, ducking and weaving and laughing while one of them stands motionless, waiting to spring back to life. It’s a knowing hint at the terror that’s about to unfurl—the sense that time is about to slip out of whack.
The beautiful, secluded beach where Old takes place is powered by one horrifying logic: If you stay on it, you get old—fast. Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps), on a sumptuous vacation with their two preteen children, arrive one morning and lay down their towels; within a few hours, their kids have gone through puberty and their own faces are scored with wrinkles. Shyamalan has made movies featuring ghosts, alien invaders, scary trees, and comic-book villains, but with Old he’s hit on a premise that is devastating in its simplicity. Everyone’s afraid of aging, right?