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film review

M. Night Shyamalan's Old is a horror movie about aging.PHOBYMO/UNIVERSAL PICTURES

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  • Old
  • Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
  • Written by M. Night Shyamalan, based on the graphic novel by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Lévy
  • Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps and Ken Leung
  • Classification PG; 108 minutes
  • Opens July 23 in theatres across Canada

Curse you, M. Night Shyamalan. Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the holiday waters, the filmmaker comes along with Old, an outre thriller that screams “stay at home.” But also, paradoxically, “carpe diem.”

The movie, and I don’t think I’m over or underselling this, is pure chaos. From its rib-poking opening to its magnificently messy conclusion, Old is a feverishly earnest look at mortality, responsibility and, um, well … I wish that I could explain just what I think Shyamalan is getting at in his final 15 minutes. But doing so risks ruining one of the great all-time oh-really-now???? pull-back-the-curtain moments in cinematic (or Shyamalanic) history.

What I can say, given that the marketing materials have detailed as much: Old is a horror movie about aging. Specifically about your body deteriorating so fast that you risk turning into what I’m going to call, even if the movie doesn’t, a human pretzel.

The film opens with a family, played by an impressively international cast, headed for a much needed vacation at an unnamed tropical destination. There is the insurance-actuary father Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal), the museum-curator mother Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and their two kids, who are each gifted with the kind of movie-only dialogue in which children get to be cute and smart and irresistible all at once.

Old is a feverishly earnest look at mortality and responsibility with a great pull-back-the-curtain ending.PHOBYMO/UNIVERSAL PICTURES

After checking into their resort, the family is offered a day trip to an off-the-map beach. Hoping to leave their marital and health problems behind for a day, Guy and Prisca quickly accept, along with a stuffy doctor (Rufus Sewell) and his young family, and a friendly childless couple (Ken Leung and Nikki Amuka-Bird). But after being dropped off at the sandy spot by a resort employee (Shyamalan himself, using his usual cameo appearance to really twist the authorial knife), things start to get freaky. A dead body washes ashore. There is an unnatural shimmer coming from the hills above. And then the kids start to … change.

Maybe things would make more sense to the characters if they knew the title of the movie that they’re in. But because we do and they don’t, it takes a good chunk of the screenplay for them to realize that this particular beach is aging everyone rapidly. Hours become years, a day becomes a lifetime and the only way out might kill everyone even more quickly.

Adapting Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters’ Twilight Zone-y graphic novel Sandcastle, Shyamalan is clearly having the time of his life. There are wild camera placements, stilted dialogue that runs in circles, dumb-dumb plot holes, a bizarre determination to have his performers act as unnaturally as possible (Krieps gets the worst of it) and, yes, an obscenely fat twist.

I am positive that Shyamalan acolytes, particularly those who insist that The Happening and The Visit are formal triumphs and not experiments that swerved off already rickety rails, will absolutely freak out. As for the rest of us? Well, the film is like life: it’s a beach, and then you die.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.