Guy and Prisca (Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps) set out on a resort holiday with their two children, Maddox and Trent, and are lured to a secluded beach with other holidaymakers. It's not before long that they realise the beach has a unique property - it rapidly ages people who come into contact with it.
M. Night Shyamalan's work, patchy as it's been, has always been defined a couple of factors. The most obvious is that there's some kind of third-act twist in the story. The other one, not quite so obvious, is that there's a degree of innocence woven into the fabric of the story. 'The Sixth Sense', for example, is about a strange but caring boy who can speak to ghosts and doesn't fear them. 'The Village' is a morality tale about an idyllic place haunted by a monster. The less successful ones, like 'Lady In The Water' or 'The Happening', had a similar edge, but for numerous reasons, they just didn't click together.
'Old' has the feel of a 'Twilight Zone' episode, with a clearly told story and a concept that is easy to get a handle of, providing rich avenues to explore in both the performances of each actor and the story itself. Ageing as a concept is always difficult to portray accurately on screen, and condensing it down to a tight hour and three quarters is tough work. Yet, it's to the credit of all concerned that it never feels like it's not working. When the children grow to become Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie, their portrayal doesn't feel all that laboured. Likewise, Vicky Kreips and Gael Garcia Bernal both imbue their characters with a certain weariness to one another that carries over into the later beats of the story in an intriguing way. Outside of the core ensemble, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung, Aaron Pierre, and Abbey Lee all do well with what they're given. Sewell, in particular, gives a particularly intense performance in the latter stages of the movie.
Shyamalan's ability to blend together body horror and fantasy to add contour to what's essentially a truly touching family drama is intriguing and recalls a lot of his earlier work. There's a simplicity in how the changes are handled that, in the hands of another director, might have felt cheaply done or uneven. Yet, it works and even adds to the strangeness of it all. It's not that it's threatening or even unsettling necessarily, but it's just... strange. You can easily imagine parents connecting with this movie, of how children grow up so fast before them without realising it. That's not to say that there aren't some truly effective moments of horror in 'Old'. There most certainly are, and again, Shyamalan knows how to make them disturbing and gross in a way that compliments the story rather than shocking just for the sake of it.
On the other side, there's a good chunk of plot convenience and clunky dialogue at work in 'Old'. Without going too far into the story itself, there are a couple of scenes that don't quite work as they should and, likewise, some of the line readings from Kreips, Sewell and Bernal feel particularly dry and wooden.
Still, for its runtime, 'Old' is one of Shyamalan's stronger works and while it might be patchy in quality, it's still an entertaining slice of fantasy thrills and chills.