M. Night Shyamalan’s OLD Is a Surprisingly Touching Thriller

Maybe it’s because after sheltering at home with my husband and my teen, I’ve changed how I see life. Or maybe it’s because I loved uncovering each layer of this story that slowly reveals itself like a good book. But I was pretty shocked to find myself really intrigued at M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, Old. There is a very touching, human story that may affect even the hardest of hearts in between the twists and thrills. 

Gael Garcia Bernal's noticeably wizened face turns apprehensively toward the camera at the horror he is to find in the movie Old.
Universal Pictures

The film is adapted from Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederick Peeters’ graphic novel Sandcastle. It follows Guy ( Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca ( Vicky Krieps), a married couple from Philadelphia, heading to a beachside vacation with their two kids. The parents are hiding a secret from their six- and 11-year-old children. It’s just the news every kid wants to hear after a fun trip: they are getting a divorce. However, after a medical crisis and stress at home between the couple, they are ready to enjoy this last vacation as a family unit. 

The hotel manager recommends a “special outing” for the family and they are soon dropped off at a remote, private beach. They are not alone, as the hotel has recommended this location to a few other select patrons. Soon, the hotel guests start to notice oddities. Their children are aging right before their eyes. A dead body that only appeared hours ago has quickly turned into a skeleton. The guests start to unravel and become determined to get off that beach at any cost. 

The cast is absolutely divine to watch. Each actor fills their characters with depth and nuance, meeting each stage of their physical and mental aging with composure and aplomb. Thomasin McKenzie, Eliza Scanlen, and Alex Wolff are stand-outs as the teenaged children. And the quiet cadence in Bernal and Krieps only lends to the emotional arc that had me reaching for tissues.

In M. Night Shyamalan's OLD, a family embraces, realizing the horror unfolding before them.
Universal Pictures

Those who are expecting some full-fledged horror show should look elsewhere. You won’t find that here. Shyamalan’s gift is in the build of the story. There are plenty of thrills, but I don’t see that as the big “gotcha” of the film. You might guess the twist, but by only focusing on that, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. This is a story not necessarily about aging itself, but about how we as a society spend our time on Earth. 

Regardless of whether or not the pandemic changed our personal views, it definitely changed if/how we consider others. Especially those closest to us. I’m not sure when Shyamalan adapted this film, and I’m not certain I would feel differently had the pandemic not been part of our lives. But the pandemic did and is happening, and I found comfort in the film’s reflection. 

Sure, life is a bit of a horror show right now. And maybe there are days when you want to run off to some deserted beach to have a moment of peace. But much like the film, life is about those quiet moments and remembering that life is short. Aging is, in fact, a gift, and all the stress and the crazy are just fleeting moments. Embrace it all because life, as Shyamalan emphasizes, is indeed short. So live it.


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