At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Old “2021”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Thriller/ Stars: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abbey Lee, Aaron Pierre, Alex Wolff, Emun Elliott, Nolan River, Luca Faustino Rodriguez, Eliza Scanlen, Kyle Bailey, Mikaya Fisher, Kathleen Chalfant, Thomasin McKenzie, Embeth Davidtz, Alexa Swinton, Gustaf Hammarsten, Francesca Eastwood, Matthew Shear, Kailen Jude, M. Night Shyamalan/ Runtime: 108 minutes

I think it is safe to say that if you ever were to name one of the more polarizing film directors of the past 3-decades I honestly would not be surprised if the name M. Night Shyamalan managed to make it on quite a few people’s lists. Indeed here is a man who started out strong, had a series of setbacks (colossal failures), and here recently has actually tried to make things that are actually good again to varying degrees of success. Yet even though he usually makes very concentrated stories of terror set in his home town of Philadelphia, this infamous helmer with a fascination for twist endings for his latest project has decided to expand his horizons more than ever before with a take on a French graphic novel called Sandcastle by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Lévy known as Old and honestly no this is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but at the same time this is not The Last Airbender by any stretch of the imagination either thus settling for being a slice of cinematic pie that is good but not great. Indeed whilst this movie does start out being a little bit clunky in the worst way possible, it thankfully picks up once its key narrative hook thrillingly gets underway and in the process becomes a cinematic experience that is equal parts engaging and ominous in the best way possible.

The plot is as follows: An adaptation of Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederick Peeters’ graphic novel Sandcastle, the story of Old begins as we see a family unit in the form of patriarch Guy, matriarch Prisca, and their 2 kids Maddox and Trent as they are in the midst of heading, despite some changes to the family dynamic looming on the horizon that the parents are doing their best to hide from the kids, to a relaxing vacation in the tropics. Of course things soon take a turn when the employees at the luxurious resort that they are staying at tell them about a local gem worth visiting in the form of a secluded beach. Suffice it to say that our family unit is all for it only to discover upon arrival that there are at least 2 other families already there in the forms of a known medical professional by the name of Charles, his significantly younger and quite vain spouse Chrystal, their 6-year-old daughter Kara, Charles’ getting up there in years dear ol’ mom by the name of Agnes as well as a woman shrink named Patricia and her nurse of a husband named Jarin. Yet as mildly annoying as that may be, things are about to go from mildly annoying to downright horrifying when first a dead body pops up out of nowhere and then everyone with particular regard to the kids start rapidly aging. Now what has started out as an idyllic getaway has turned into no more and no less than a truly frightening Lord of the Fliesesque battle for survival.

Now right off the bat I should point out that Old is a fairly historic entry in Shyamalan’s filmography in that this is his very first slice of cinematic pie that he has scribed and helmed which is not set anywhere close to his home town of Philadelphia (as far as I know; I mean when I went to Philadelphia I didn’t see any hidden beaches and believe me I looked EVERYWHERE). Jokes aside, even though the iconic city is still able to play a little bit of a part in the grand scheme of things, this slice of cinematic pie chooses instead to have things take part in the Dominican Republic with a gorgeous yet slightly ominous beach being the main setting for much of what goes on throughout the course of this film and honestly I’m really glad he chose to do this. I say that because Shyamalan is able to utilize this novel turf to the fullest and in the process conjures up a truly expansive slice of cinematic pie with the narrative it is telling. Yet for how gorgeous this locale really, there is still an ominous mood to this film courtesy of a wonderful mix of camera and editing work to say nothing of the location in this film really feeling way off the beaten path and that there really is no one else around for miles. Thus instead of choosing to place this narrative in an isolated locale, the fact that this beach is supposed to be isolated does that for him as well as the unrelenting hands of a clock which with every minute that passes could see one or all of these people dead long before their preordained time.

Unfortunately, if there was a weak link to be found in this film, it would have to be in how it introduces us to the characters at the heart of the narrative. I mean don’t get me wrong: it is necessary to at least establish the main family at the heart of this since they are the cornerstone on which this cast is constructed. With that being said though, there are some moments of character construction throughout the beginning of the movie that don’t really genuine such as when one of the kids is running all over and asking various individuals about who they are and what they do. Yet the moment this story is able to find stable ground as well as put the characters through the wringer, this narrative really does take off. Indeed even though it is cautious enough to make sure to leave as many hints as possible for the movie goer, this movie’s tempo is quick enough to be fairly riveting, but a wee bit too quick to completely immerse you into the world of the movie. Thankfully in that respect we do get top-flight work in this from main family leads Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps as well as Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie as a little bit older takes on their kids which do help immensely in glossing over the potholes in the narrative. At the same time this slice of cinematic pie is also blessed with a few fairly potent visual frights that test the limits of the PG-13 rating and that will make you jump to some degree whilst watching this. Suffice it to say then that by the end of this film quite a bit has gone on and you, the viewer have gotten to go on a cinematic ride unlike any other.

Now I know when it comes to movies that are helmed by M. Night Shyamalan, I am very much aware that the one thing that you will care the most about is in regards to the twist that he throws into the proceedings at the very end of things. This is hardly surprising since a few of them have been great, one or 2 have been good, and the majority for a long time were just downright stupid (the plants are killing us ring any bells?). Well without giving you any inkling whatsoever as to where this slice of cinematic pie chooses to wind up, I can honestly promise you that this film is yet another entry in this guy’s filmography that will have you, and anyone you rope into seeing this with you, engaged in spirited discussion about how it chooses to end things. Yes when taking into account Shyamalan’s gallery of twists, this one is honestly not that bad, but again he has done better. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this ending however is the fact that, again with no spoilers present, how this slice of cinematic pie doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to making this ending fairly emotional in addition to the prerequisite length that your jaw might go when it hits the floor. All I can say is that if you are somehow one of those people who has had the good fortune to read the graphic novel that was the source material for this distinct film, I can honestly say that this cinematic take on the property definitely gives you a way more conclusive answer than what the graphic novel chooses to give the reader.

All in all I think it is safe to say that Old is a cinematic pie that manages to function at the peak of its abilities when it chooses to shine its spotlight on the terror that is felt by the kids in this when they find themselves being torn apart by the passage of time long before they are meant to. Yes fairly potent work from the whole cast of performers in this does aid in hiding some of the most atrocious to say nothing of completely unrealistic dialogue that M. Night Shyamalan has ever put to paper (and that is taking into account that this guy is the same guy who gave us Lady in the Water, The Happening, 2010’s live action take on The Last Airbender and 2013’s After Earf ehhh Earth). Also yes the shock and feeling of your emotions just being released that were key parts to Shyamalan’s better movies like Sixth Sense and Signs are most assuredly not to be found here due to some really over the top explanations especially when it comes to certain things that I feel would have a lot more effective if they had been allowed to remain intriguing enigmas. Yet even with those flaws in mind, I can honestly say that by and large Old is a fairly decent entry in Shyamalan’s recent filmography. No this slice of cinematic pie is most likely not going to hold up incredibly well if you choose to watch it multiple times, but at least watching it that very first time this film is a riveting and thought-provoking analysis on what being alive is all about even if sometimes discovering that runs the risk of dredging up ominous and long hidden emotions much like the tide sometimes brings up things in the sand that had been buried there for a long, long time. On a scale of 1-5 I give Old “2021” a solid 3 out of 5.