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An M. Night Misfire

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

M Night Shayamalan, just like he tells us before the film, has been making films for about three decades now. His films, whether you like them or not, usually have some visual flair to them, and you can tell M Night has talent. Some might say he honed his craft from the get-go with The Sixth Sense, and some might even say he could never reach those heights again. Well, love him or hate him, he has a new summer thriller out now (in case you haven't heard) titled Old. And you may or may not be familiar with the premise, from the trailer or otherwise. Essentially, a group of vacationers are stranded on a strange beach which inexplicably has accelerated their aging process. They must either find a way off the beach, or find a way to combat the rapid aging of their bodies. Once again, M Night promises an intriguing premise, but perhaps doesn't deliver on the execution. Let's dive in and find out why exactly this didn't land. What I can admire about M Night Shaymalan is that he pretty much always lures us in with an intriguing premise, at the very least. I will also give him that the pacing in this film always keeps us interested, and never bored. And that's increasingly important in the thriller genre. Now, what it doesn't do, however, is stick the landing. And I have to say, even with a promising setup, it was still bumpy along the way. The execution wasn't always there, in terms of character, dialogue, and even the stilted acting. It felt, at times, that the actors didn't even wanna be there. They just showed up for their paychecks, only to phone it in. Not to mention, there were moments in which attempted to be socially relevant, but they came across as on-the-nose and clunky. It's clear that M Night wanted to get in on the ideas and social commentary that other filmmakers have deftly created and communicated, by M Night's insertion of these ideas were handled very ham-handedly. As for the setup between acts one and two, it wasn't so bad as you were always enchanted or even transfixed by his filmmaking and luring us in with the premise, but the third act completely falls apart with nonsensical happenings, poor acting, and a twist that's not only ineffective, but completely unsatisfying. Once again, M Night can create high concept ideas with half his brain tied behind his back, but he can't always deliver on that promise. The script here, as I alluded to, is structured nicely and has a brisk pace to it to keep the audience interested and entertained. The problem here is that he struggles with compelling and effective dialogue. There were times which felt like the lines could have been from the farce film "The Room." The primary issue with the script, aside from that, is the inability to build interesting and multidimensional characters. Yes, he is dealing with a lot of different characters here, but they do not remain consistent throughout, which is a glaring problem. Since these characters were not interesting and didn't have any meat to them, it also came out in the bland performances. You can have an intriguing, high concept premise, but if you don't follow through with strong characterization and compelling dialogue, the script is ultimately going to fall flat - which is exactly the diagnosis here. This leads me to my next point: since the characters were not interesting, consequently, the performances weren't particularly interesting either. We were working with a very talented cast, as many names and faces will be familiar to even the casual viewer. But unfortunately, the actors seemed to really phone it in as maybe they weren't given enough meat to work with here. Even so, the performances were so bland and the delivery of lines was so flat across the board, it made it almost impossible to care what happened to anyone. There were certainly moments - perhaps flashes of brilliance - that we could see from the looks of terror and the M Night trademarks he boasts in his other horror/thrillers. But ultimately, when it came to the pivotal moments, from the profound to the understated, it lacked nuance and real substance. One might say that flat performances are perhaps not M Night's fault, but on the contrary, it is up to the director to pull great performances out of these actors and from the writer's perspective, to give them strong material to work with from the start. As stated, the twist in this film is not only ineffective, but also completely unsatisfying and leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Yes, I mention the twist here as being important because we've come to know M Night as a filmmaker who loves a good twist. And don't we all? Since we have come to expect that from him, that almost takes away from the film as a whole because we know a twist SHOULD be coming. Not only that, but also a good twist needs to not only serve the plot well and come about organically, but it also needs to be satisfying and make sense. The twist here, at the risk of spoilers, completely undermines the film as a whole and wasn't really set up at the beginning. For a twist to really come out of nowhere, it's not only ineffective, but totally unfair to the viewer. Not to mention, by this point in the film, I didn't care anyway, so the film had lost me before the supposed "A-ha!" moment. And instead of an "A-ha!" moment, we just have an "oh..." moment. Sure, we expect twists from M Night films and we expect them to shock us, but with that in mind, the twist in this film not only falls completely flat, it leaves us underwhelmed and bitter. While I spent this entire review criticizing M Night, I want to give some appreciation to him. Yes, the film didn't work for me, but ultimately there were things I respected and appreciated. Like I mentioned before, at the very least, M Night does keep us interested and entertained, for the first two acts. Additionally, M Night has a vision for very sumptuous and cinematic shots. The cinematography in this film used techniques and angles I had not yet seen before. So, those aspects must be highlighted and celebrated. However, for the cinematic treats he gave us, he also left us unsatisfied between the inability to deliver on the promising concept, a mediocre at best script, and bland and uninteresting performances from actors who clearly desired to be elsewhere. All those aspects, coupled with a ridiculous third act featuring a tepid twist, it simply just doesn't leave us satisfied or with a fulfillment in leaving the theater. M Night remains to be a talented filmmaker and a brilliant mind for high concept ideas, but until he gives us fully rounded characters with a dynamite script, we won't give him the accolades perhaps he thinks he deserves. On the other hand, I will respect his effort as I don't fully believe that this was a swing and a miss. I do think he popped it up on the infield, though.

Old is a Universal Studios film and is currently available wherever theaters are safely open.

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