Rated PG-13, but I'll say that this one is pushing it. I know that M. Night Shyamalan really wanted a PG-13, despite the fact that the content doesn't read as PG-13. So it has the tone of a PG-13 movie with the content of a pretty graphic horror movie. There's a lot of death. There's some pretty gnarly stabbing stuff happening in it. There's amateur surgery. There's a dead baby. There's so much that happens in this movie that doesn't sound like it belongs in a PG-13 movie...because it really doesn't. Regardless, I don't make the rules.
DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
Ask me if I want to write about this. (The answer, clearly, is no.) I want to be watching another Wong Kar-Wai movie. Actually, on my way back from Kroger pick-up, I was debating which movie I wanted to watch. I WANTED to watch a Wong Kar-Wai movie, but then I thought of all of the Italian cinema that no one has been watching with me. Then I realized I have Bad Boys for Life from Netflix DVD just sitting on my counter, which is a movie that A) I don't want to watch anymore and B) stars Will Smith, which means that the blog basically writes itself at this point. But none of that really matters, because there are a million Covid-positive kids running around my house right now (it's the part of the family that gave it to us to begin with) so I can't watch any of those things. Instead, I'm writing on the computer, because it is the one part of the house that I can guarantee more than five-minutes without interruption.
I may need to write off M. Night Shyamalan. I have this amazing Alfred Hitchcock box set from Universal in the basement. You might have seen it. It's the one with the felt box and it has the infamous Hitchcock silhouette embossed in the side. On those documentaries, a young M. Night Shyamalan provides a lot of special features about Hitchcock's films. He made these special features when he was a young up-and-comer. The connection that I was making is that Shyamalan was going to be the next Hitchcock. He had The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable under his belt. His control of the camera was something we hadn't really seen in a while and his stories were just oozing with suspense. But as he kept making movies, he became more and more of a joke. His films were largely gimmicky and people stopped talking about him as if he was a marketable property. I think he lost all of his street cred when it came to Lady in the Water. I waste all of this digital space to get to the point that I stuck with him for far longer than I really should have. For a long time, I thought that Lady in the Water was wildly under-appreciated. (Unappreciated? I'm not feeling like writing, but I add all this nonsense to give you a hint into my headspace.)
Maybe it was the fact that I tend to watch Shyamalan's films now as filler on DVD or streaming and almost immediately forget them that brings me to this point. I acknowledge that there is a glut of talent behind the camera. But also...these movies, guys. They're not great. How does someone go from the cinematic canon into fodder that actively bores me? The concept of Old has something there. To Shyamalan's credit, he actually cites a graphic novel (or does IMDB?) as his inspiration for Old. I mean, from an allegorical perspective, finding a beach that makes people age a lifetime in a day is something that could be talked about. It's just that this movie wants to do two very different things. It 1) wants to be cinematically magnificent and talk about deep things and 2) wants to be the popcorniest horror movie imaginable. Now, with The Sixth Sense, he accomplished that. I can't deny that The Sixth Sense, without the context of cinematic history, managed to change the landscape of film. But now he's trying and it sucks. I'm sorry. This movie was dumb. It was so dumb. And it had no reason to be so dumb. It had great actors and pretty solid cinematography. It had a message that tried to transcend its genre. But at the end of the day, this is a cornball movie.
I want to approach it from an allegorical perspective first. Shyamalan has this mystery behind the beach. Instead of simply being a supernatural phenomenon, there's a clear conspiracy woven throughout the film. There's the light from the hills. There's the fact that the van driver clearly wants to strand them on this island. It's all this stuff that screams, "Oooh, there's something deeper." And that something deeper is a freshman-level ethics course. It's that old chestnut of killing a few people for the good of humanity. Each person (family member) on this beach has something wrong with them. Because the beach allows people to age a lifetime in a day, each test medication that they've secretly ingested can provide a trial time of 24 hours instead of 70 years. Fun. But ultimately a philosophical question that we don't have a lot of time to think about. Like, that's its own movie. Heck, we've seen that movie before. I'm flashing back to a movie from the '90s that was named something like Drastic Measures. (It wasn't named that, but I would have been really impressed if my memory allowed for something like that to cement when I can't even remember my garage code.) But there's the notion of the importance of a moment. Because I value vulnerability so much, I have to share that I'm convinced that I'm going to die before I grow old. I've thought about this so much that I've actually kind of made a dark peace with it. But there's the bittersweet element of the film of being able to watch children grow up. There's the notion that it could be a metaphor for the fact that life goes by too fast and even the time that we're dealt on Earth is ultimately unfair. That's all cool. Heck, Shyamalan even touches on that stuff.
And that's where the movie is kind of cool. Shyamalan has a little bit of a fun with both the literal and figurative idiom "Time heals all wounds." Yeah, it's a gross-out moment when they remove Prisca's ridiculous tumor and she heals in seconds. But it also is this great moment where Guy and Prisca work through some real problems in moments because they're aware of their own mortality. Yeah, it's a little bit of fantasy to think that two people could work out tons of marital trauma in moments, but that's also saying something about the value of something being finite. That's the best part of the movie. Shyamalan does some great stuff when the kids realize that being an adult simply means being a kid in an adult's body. It is such a choice to not have the characters act wildly immature despite being mentally six-years-old. When the two kids are in their 50s on the beach, they simply seem carefree rather than snotty. It's great. Yeah, the notion that adults have no idea what they are doing is one that I've heard before, but this does a nice job with subtlety.
But then everything else is just a sledgehammer of "Shouldn't we experiment with the format as much as possible?" When plotting this story out, Shyamalan must have asked every question about what would happen with rapid aging. And then he just ignored a ton of his rules. There are so many loopholes in the Old format that the best advice for people watching the movie is just to ignore it and realize that he's trying to make something that could be very dry and nuanced a popcorn film. Like, every stupid scenario is played out with this group of strangers on the beach. Because there's a fine line between aging and entropy that is playing out and Shyamalan just picks the rule that makes the movie more insane. Removing a tumor on the beach? Sure. Let's do that. Instant healing? Why not? But the most insane thing in the world is the decision for the real little kids who are the beach to have sex and instantly get pregnant. That moment...come on. It's such a bro-moment. He wanted to film it so bad that he just completely forgot that he was making a movie that was meant to be a thinker and decided to go with the "Wouldn't it be cool?" And you know what? It wasn't cool. It was stupid. We don't have time to absorb why characters make choices? I mean, where did those kids learn about their own bodies fast enough to get to that point? Also, are we forgetting that menstruation exists? If time works the way it does on this beach and that this girl matured super-fast, how about the rest of the stuff that comes along with pregnancy? It's a lot of stupid, real fast.
Then there's the attempts to be relevant. Shyamalan must have been a real awkward kid because his treatment of race is absolutely silly. I'm sorry, I can't get over the dumb name of the rapper. The hip hop artist calls himself "Mid-Sized Sedan"? Goodness me. I know that Shyamalan isn't White, but he's making his work for an audience that is. It's so minimizing of a culture. It's also a joke that I think we are way past. Once the year 2000 hit, we needed to move on from that absolutely stupid joke. I get that the Nicholson-Brando thing was something that he took from his own father's dementia, the idea that there wasn't this discussion about the racial tension of the film is odd. Like, he wanted to include it without building the necessary stuff. It's pointing to a cultural problem without actually thinking. Golly, I hate to use this phrase because I find the term abhorrent, but I can see how this might be virtue signaling versus actually doing anything good. It reminds me of when students make videos for class and really stress their own views. Art is meant to be challenging, but I think it has to be challenging for the filmmaker as well as its audience.
I honestly left the movie thinking, "Boy, that was really dumb." It never looked great, but I heard good things. There wasn't much appealing and it actually made me question if I ever liked M. Night Shyamalan.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.