My wife and I both had a blast watching this, and I occasionally leaned over and made comments (which bugged her immensely). Then on the way home, we had the biggest argument about it. When she found out I was going to give it 2 ½ stars (uh, spoiler alert, I guess), she pleaded, “It deserved more than that!”
I said, “Well, you also liked the show Lost.”
And this did remind me of that, with a bit of Capricorn One, Extreme Measures, and a terrific movie made by some San Diegan filmmakers -- The Endless. It also made me think of a comedy with a lot of heart that unfortunately went under the radar last year -- Tom of Your Life. That’s about a boy who ages 4 years every hour. Rent that, and thank me later. And, go see Old in the theatres. It’s the type of movie people will either love or hate. The women sitting next to us at the screening screamed in anger at the ending. I thought the third act was terrific, and it was very satisfying (unlike Lost) in the answers they gave us about what was happening.
The problem I had with this film was that an incredible cast was given horribly written dialogue. There came a time when I said to myself -- people just don’t talk like this. It made me wonder if perhaps some of these beachgoers were aliens doing experiments on the humans (a great movie that does that, called Dark City; it’s lead actor, Rufus Sewell, stars in this).
The story shows the Capa family vacationing at an exotic tropical resort that Prisca (Vicky Krieps) found online (that’s how they get ya!). Her husband Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) seems perfect, as we see him joke around with the kids (Alexa Swinton, Nolan River). Soon though, we find out they’re having problems in their marriage -- nothing a good vacation, with an umbrella in a drink can’t fix. Horror also sometimes brings a fighting couple together.
The movie actually doesn’t have many scares, the way the trailer implies. The trailers do show a young girl, who quickly becomes a teenager and pregnant...and it has your mind reeling. Did some evil spirit pull an Entity on her? (the horror movie from the early ‘80s where Barbara Hershey was raped by a ghost). Did she have sex with another one of the little kids that is now a teenager? (which is kind of creepy, as we just saw them as little kids in the previous scene). And will the baby come out looking like Benjamin Buttons? I mean, after all...everyone is aging so quickly on this crazy island.
I’m joking as if I didn’t like it, because it just sounds so goofy explaining this premise to anyone, but as I said...my wife and I were never bored and had fun trying to figure out where it was going.
Dr. Charles (Rufus Sewell, who reminded me of an evil, older Jude Law) is there with his trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee). I thought this dingbat would be the first to bite the dust. What happens to her character makes little sense. Worst is stilted dialogue like, “I work at a museum. That’s why I live in the past”, or “I’m Jarin, and I’m a nurse.” There was also Jarin (Ken Leung, who was in Lost) giving us lots of exposition lines, the goofiest being, “There’s something weird with time on this island.”
Uh, ya think?
The first look we get of the beach is through the eyes of a famous rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan (perhaps the best fictional rap name since “Stab Master Arson” in the film CB4). He’s played by British actor Aaron Pierre (The Underground Railroad). Perhaps his rap name should have been MC Nose Bleed, because his never stopped bleeding. Although that, and the fact that he followed a pretty woman out to the water who ended up dead, created a nice air of mystery. I mean, think about how much more fun Gilligan’s Island would have been if Mary Ann ended up pregnant, and they all aged to look like Thurson Howell in a few hours? And just like Gilligan’s Island, the people on the beach have a variety of professions. We get a therapist (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who suggests they share their feelings after each frightening reveal. There also comes a time when the doctor needs to perform a surgery. It’s a terrific scene. It reminded me of what happened to the skin of a bad guy in a Chuck Norris movie (Silent Rage, from the same year as The Entity -- 1982). The doctor makes an incision, but the skin quickly heals up, making things difficult. What they do to compensate for that -- is very thrilling to watch. [Note to filmmakers -- crazy surgery scenes on screen in sci-fi films always work; remember Noomi Rapace having to operate on herself in Prometheus?]
When the little kids become teens, we get to see Alex Wolff (who just did horror a few years ago in Hereditary) and Thomasin McKenzie (who had to deal with the horror of Nazis in JojoRabbit). Surprisingly, the film is well-paced. And it’s interesting that the teenagers sometimes sound like little kids as they discuss their fears. It’s subtly done, reminding me of a few scenes from Big (Tom Hanks).
I loved watching one character, who is going through some sort of dementia, continually asking the name of a Jack Nicholson/Marlon Brando movie. It’s such an obscure movie reference, and as a fan of both actors, it‘s one of the few movies I haven’t seen. I only know about TheMissouri Breaks because I used to write material for a Jack Nicholson impersonator who also did a Brando impersonation, and he’d bring it up all the time, wanting me to write bits where the two actors have a conversation about who was better in the film. I always argued the bit wouldn’t work, as nobody knows the film. But I digress.
That’s the difference between the way a filmmaker like M. Night Shyamalan can drop in an obscure movie reference and it’s fun for those of us who know it, and even works for those who don’t; versus when Tarantino does it, and it’s a Nazi and a woman discussing Italian film directors for a 13-minute scene in Inglourious Basterds, that goes absolutely nowhere, and probably only amuses Tarantino and a few of his director friends.
This film is based on the graphic novel Sandcastle, which is a much better title than Old (and do you really want a title that makes it so easy for hater critics to say how “M. Night movies and their twists are getting old!”).
While I felt the clunky dialogue and characters could’ve been done better, the camera work is terrific. There are wonderful shots from the cliff, the way certain scenes are blocked, the angles, and when a character starts to lose his eyesight and is seeing things a bit blurry.
It was, despite its flaws, a fun film.
2 ½ stars out of 5; but as I type this, my wife is still demanding I give it a higher score.