Friday, September 17, 2021

Review: A Charming Base and Beautiful Views Aren’t Enough

by Jocelyn Noveck | The Associated Press

“Can you believe I found this online?” A happy Prisca asks husband Guy at the beginning of “Old”, as their family moves to a luxurious beach resort.

Not to be a Debbie Downer so soon, but that’s not a good sign – for family or for the movie. “Can you believe I found this online?” Vacation has become a hackneyed catchphrase of horror movies. Every time a character says that, whether in a dreamy English estate or a stunning coastal retreat, you can set your clock—the first body will appear in minutes.

Nevertheless, we hope for the best. “Old” is an M. Night Shyamalan movie, so you know the premise will be clever and provocative. And clearly, we are a captive audience. It’s summer, it’s been a terrible year, and we could all use two hours at a beautiful beach, even if it’s virtual. Just give us some soulful characters we can root for, a modest bit of backstory to take care of us, and decent dialogue to take things along. Not a lot to ask, is it?

Obviously, it is. Because Shyamalan surprisingly drops everything he does, relying solely on a seductive premise and beautiful visuals. That’s just not enough.

The characters are quirky, but trust us, not in a good way—in an annoying, instantly tiresome, I-dare-you-to-care-about-me way. The kids are good enough, but each adult is more upset, and more ridiculous, than the next. It’s probably not their fault. The dialogues are often sarcastically clumsy. You will definitely find yourself stomach-laughing at times, only to remind yourself that this is not a comedy.

Prisca and Guy are holidaying with their kids, Trent, 6, and Maddox, 10. Guy (Gael García Bernal) is a worried insurance actuator—not the most logical use of Bernal’s charm, but okay—constantly figures out how people die in accidents. Prisca (Vicky Cripps) is a museum curator who is clearly hiding a secret. There are marital troubles, clearly established in an opening scene where the couple argue, the children listen. “You’re always thinking about the future!” Prisca screams. “It makes me feel not seen!!” The boy replies: “You’re always thinking of the past!” The kids have no idea what they are talking about. Honestly, are you?

The next day, he is offered a tantalizing opportunity by the creepy resort manager: a trip to a nature secluded beach surrounded by cliffs. Soon they land in a hotel van (in a small part driven by the Shyamalans) with another family: Charles, a tyrannical doctor (Rufus Sewell), Crystal, his young, beauty-obsessed wife (Abby Lee), his The younger daughter and the elder mother of the doctor.

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On the gorgeous beach, things quickly get awkward. Maddox recognizes a well-known rapper named Mid-Size Sedan (Aaron Pierre) who is chuckled in the distance. Trent goes swimming, only to encounter the floating corpse of a woman who had recently been spending time with the rapper. The group tries to call for help, but there is no signal. Two new guests arrive – Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), a doctor suffering from epileptic seizures, and her husband, Zarine (Ken Leung), a nurse.

But all this upheaval is what’s happening to everyone all of a sudden: They’re getting old. swiftly. This is more visible with children, who suddenly go from school-aged to teenagers (Alex Wolfe and the beloved but less used Thomasin McKenzie). Panic ensues, and there’s no way out – when someone tries to leave, something strikes their mind and they black out.

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What is happening? The group calculates that half an hour on that beach equals one year of life. Obviously people will die. The only question is who goes first.

But… we don’t care about any of them! If we had been made to care, we might have worried when a soccer-ball-sized tumor was removed from someone’s stomach. Or from unwanted pregnancy, mental breakdown, murder, drowning, seizures… oh, and a very bad calcium deficiency!

How stupid is the dialogue? Small example: Amidst the bloody mayhem on the beach, Trent tells his parents honestly: “Dad, mom, you guys have to stay hydrated.” Again, this is not played for laughs.

Of course, it all comes down to a Shyamalan-style finale—the most entertaining part of the film, but it comes too late. Listen, we’re all ready for summer fun at the beach. But by the time we are allowed to delve into the mystery here, we are feeling a little tired. And maybe for good reason. This film is of one hour 48 minutes. So, just a warning: By the end, you’ll be four years old.


2 out of 4 stars

Rating: PG-13 (For Strong Violence, Distracting Images, Suggestive Content, Partial Nudity, and Brief Strong Language)

running time: 108 minutes


Review: A Charming Base and Beautiful Views Aren't Enough
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