DirectorM. Night Shyamalan
Release Date(s)2021 (October 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Perfect World Pictures/Blinding Edge Pictures (Universal Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
M. Night Shyamalan has become such a divisive filmmaker at this point in his career that it’s difficult to discuss any of his films without having to address that fact. He inspires genuine loathing in some people, which is actually a little out of proportion, because regardless of how anyone feels about his storytelling choices, he’s an extremely competent craftsman. It’s true that he’s responsible for the twist endings which have made him both famous and infamous, but even at their worst, those are a relatively small part of his films. Old is pure Shyamalan, for better or worse, and every frame of the film from beginning to end is instantly recognizable as his handiwork.
Old takes place at a resort where a wide variety of people are vacationing. Several groups of them end up on an isolated beach where they discover that they’re all aging at a rapid rate, but unable to leave the beach and stop the process. The rest of the story is best experienced with as little advance knowledge as possible, because it’s their journey which really matters, even more than the destination. Old stars Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Abby Lee, Ken Leung, Aaron Pierre, Embeth Davidtz, and Emun Elliot.
While the material may seem natural for Shyamalan, Old is actually his adaptation of the 2011 graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. Shyamalan added a framework to the story, one which provides a partial explanation for what’s happening—something that was left far more ambiguous in the novel. Shyamalan didn’t so much add a twist as he added answers that the novel didn’t provide, though he still left at least one major open question which is never resolved. He also stripped out the majority of the novel’s uncomfortable sexuality involving children, choosing instead to address the issue far more obliquely.
Shyamalan is aging as well, and the film provided a way for him to explore the passage of time under the guise of one of his typical thrillers. Different age groups will likely react to the film in different ways, as the horror in Old may depend on one’s proximity to it. For those who are feeling the sands of time, this particular beach may be a suitably unpleasant place to visit.
Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis shot Old on 35 mm film (in Super 35 format), using Arricam LT & ST cameras with Zeiss Master Prime lenses. It was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate, and framed at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release. Universal’s Ultra HD version includes both Dolby Vision and HDR10. The extra detail in the native 4K images stands out right from the start, with many refined textures, including the weave of the clothing worn by Vicky Krieps during the opening bus ride. Facial textures are equally refined, and the beach setting provides plenty of opportunity for environmental detail, such as the way that each individual grain of sand is precisely delineated. The HDR grade provides strong contrast with deep black levels, and the colors are rich without appearing oversaturated. Like nearly everything that Shyamalan does, the overall color scheme for Old is carefully controlled, with yellows, browns, and other earth tones dominating the proceedings. Reds are used sparingly, and even the greens and the blues are dense without appearing uncharacteristically vivid. In this case, the value in the wide color gamut is in how it provides more color detail, rather than brighter colors.
Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos, and it’s a relatively restrained track that stays in character with the visuals. There are plenty of immersive environmental effects that surround the viewer, such as birds, insects, and splashing water, but they never distract from what’s happening on screen. The only exceptions are some subjective moments where the camera is rotating on a dolly track, so the character’s voices circle around the listener. The overheads are used infrequently, only in a few moments where appropriate, but since the majority of the film takes place on an open beach, there’s little happening overhead anyway. There’s also some deep bass in a few key scenes. The score by Trevor Gureckis is also used effectively. Other audio options include Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles.
Universal’s Ultra HD release of Old is a 2-disc set that also includes a Blu-ray of the film in 1080p, a Digital Copy code on a paper insert, and a slipcover. The extras are identical on both discs, but all of them are featured in 4K SDR on the UHD:
- Deleted Scenes: Cold Open (:49)
- Deleted Scenes: Maddox Overlooked (:45)
- Deleted Scenes: Guy and Prisca Have a Moment (:19)
- Deleted Scenes: Spa Options (:30)
- Deleted Scenes: Trent’s Trunks (1:09)
- Deleted Scenes: Mirror Mirror (:40)
- Deleted Scenes: Despair (:56)
- Deleted Scenes: Maybe They’re on Their Way? (1:01)
- Deleted Scenes: Patricia’s Loss (1:33)
- Deleted Scenes: Birthday Party (:43)
- Shyamalan Family Business (8:04)
- All the Beach Is a Stage (9:37)
- Nightmares in Paradise (7:27)
- A Family in the Moment (6:18)
The deleted scenes are all brief trims that add no essential information, duplicate existing information, or in at least one case, give out too much information. The Cold Open is a scene that would have opened the film and was likely intended to tantalize viewers, but it also would have made them think about what was going on with the beach before the main characters even got there. All of these scenes were best left on the cutting room floor. The rest of the extras consist mostly of EPK fluff, but there’s still a bit of interesting information contained in them. Shyamalan Family Business features Shyamalan talking about how every film that he makes represents where he is personally at that point of his life. His daughters are now grown up, so for him, Old symbolizes the speed of life in how quickly children seem to age. There are also brief interviews with two of his daughters who worked on the film: Ishana, who served as second unit director, and Saleka, who wrote the song heard throughout the film. All the Beach Is a Stage looks at the shooting style of the film, with Shyamalan explaining that he was inspired by how Kurosawa films such as Ran and Rashamon treated outdoor spaces in a formalistic fashion. For Old, he shot as much as possible in master shots without coverage, with the camera moving inexorably no matter what the actors were doing, to represent the implacable movement of time. The actors discuss their own experiences with shooting that way, and how they essentially felt like they were on stage. Nightmares in Paradise examines the locations. The main beach needed to appear inviting at first, but more oppressive as the story progresses, so finding the right location was difficult. A fake stone wall was added to increase the oppressive feeling, but they had to deal with increasingly bad weather as the shoot continued. A Family in the Moment covers a key scene involving members of one of the families in the film. To say more would involve spoilers.
Old won’t change any minds about Shyamalan, so anyone who dislikes him may need to give the film a wide berth. But for those who can approach it with a more open mind, there are interesting concepts at play here, and he unquestionably knows how to shoot things in a thematically appropriate fashion. The story should resonate with anyone who’s feeling time slipping through their own fingers as they age.
- Stephen Bjork
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