GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring Vicky Krieps, Gael Garcia Bernal, Thomasin Mackenzie, Alex Wolff.
Horror, US, 108 minutes, certificate 15.
Released in cinemas in the UK July23rd by Universal Pictures.
You never really know what you are going to get from M. Night Shyamalan each time he releases a new film. The fact that there will no doubt be a surprise or twist towards the end goes without saying but there are these erratic highs and lows in his storytelling that vary in success. For every surprise twist appearance at the climax of SPLIT there is the deflated let down of the subverting expectation climax of its follow-up GLASS. These random highs and lows however could be taken as an indicator of a director who marches to the beat of his own drum, unbound by studio interference or audience test screenings. This unpredictability somehow ensures that each new project is greeted with an equal amount of excitement and trepidation.
Even without Shyamalan’s name attached OLD would be an enticing film thanks to its plot hook of a stranded family on a remote beach that causes them to prematurely age at an alarmingly rapid rate. The family, consisting of husband-and-wife Guy and Prisca, their eleven-year-old daughter Maddox and six-year-old son Trent, have ended up on this beach as part of their holiday to a luxury hotel resort. Also stranded on the beach is surgeon Charles, Rufus Sewell, his young trophy wife Chrystal and their own six-year-old daughter Kara.
To give anymore away than is seen in the trailer would rob anyone reading this of a number of great surprises that are executed to highly entertaining and regularly surprising effect. Based on the French graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar-Levy and Frederick Peeters this adaptation brings out the best in Shyamalan, displaying his knack for suspense and pacing that pays off in a number of startling reveals. The first revelation of the children’s aging is held back from the camera until the last possible moment delivering a real wallop of a surprise that is sold by the cast. As the now teenaged offspring Thomasin Mackenzie and HEREDITARY’s Alex Wolff deliver excellent performances dealing in the confusion, anger and terror of what is happening to them both physically and mentally.
As their parents Vicky Kriepps and Gael Garcia Bernal also deliver on the acting front. Their own way of dealing with the situation and each other make OLD possibly the most emotional film in Shyamalan’s catalogue yet. This speeded up take on mortality, the fears of parenthood and the reversal that old age brings about in the matter of care brings an existential level to the writer and director’s storytelling that has never really been present before. This along with the photography of Mike Gioulakis, that zooms in and out, swooping around the characters and expertly revealing the changes brought about in the characters on the outside ensuring that OLD moves along at whip crack pace.
Such a shame then that it leads to what is still Shyamalan’s biggest weakness; endings. Since The Sixth Sense and its near perfect climax that had audiences rushing back to re-watch it, Shyamalan seems hell-bent on either over-explaining any ambiguity that has so far captivated the audience or coming up with a conclusion that seems at odds with what has gone before. Whilst it may not reach the convoluted heights of SIGNS Heaven sent intervention it does manage to dash a great number of the films mystery against the rocks. What could have been a haunting conclusion that could still satisfy audiences who had been paying attention throughout is swapped over for an exposition heavy coda that also takes the easy option out.
Ending aside, the first ninety-five minutes of OLD are Shyamalan’s best film since UNBREAKABLE. Whatever wrong decisions are made here are outweighed by the right ones. There is a relentless energy and sadistic glee in how far he can push this situation. One instance skirts close to bad taste but is then pulled back to later reveal one of the film’s most haunting instances of sound and vision where the bones of a rapidly decomposed body are heard rubbing and clicking together underneath a blanket. Such daring choices are what have made Shyamalan an exciting director again, particularly after that slump from THE VILLAGE to AFTER EARTH. Such swings and misses are what frustrate and excite but when he connects with the material in the right way, he can deliver a surprise like no-one else in mainstream cinema right now and OLD, for better or worse, is the perfect example.