Credit: Universal
by M.G. Mailloux Film

Best Films of 2021: Old

January 8, 2022

#8. Perhaps the most memed film of the year (give or take Annette), M. Night Shyamalan’s Old challenged and beguiled audiences in equal measure, becoming one of the first significant post-lockdown box office successes despite the social media scoffing. Of course, this isn’t anything new for Shyamalan, now 14 features and three decades deep into a filmmaking legacy that has seen him go from celebrated Oscar contender to scorned blockbuster technician to essential Blumhouse collaborator — without ever losing his distinctive authorial voice. Coming off some notable financial and critical wins, in part thanks to the backing of Jason Blum, Old finds the 51-year-old director back at a major studio (Universal, which has distributed those last few) and working with a comfortable mid-range budget, creating cinema as vibrant and provocative as what he was making 20+ years ago.

One of the more straightforward premises Shyamalan has worked from, Old plays out in seclusion amongst a group of strangers who, acting on a mysterious invitation to a remote tropical getaway, soon find themselves abandoned and unable to leave a sinister beach that is encouraging their bodies to age at an alarmingly accelerated rate. A rather brilliant, universally recognizable conceit, Shyamalan and current go-to cinematographer Mike Gioulakis conceive images worthy of this imaginatively nasty fable which they capture on a beautiful, soft 35mm stock that favors a spectacular natural setting that backdrops the human violence. Offering its fair share of grisly thrills, Old is, nevertheless, at its most disturbing when the script steers into the existentially dreadful nature of its protagonists’ suddenly compressed lives, deftly written to reflect and magnify the viewer’s anxieties around losing time while also reminding the audience of their inability to meaningfully perceive it. That this manages to then loop into a larger condemnation of western pharma criminality is remarkable, even more so that it is accomplished convincingly and recomplicates the fraught confrontation between film and audience already at play. But while Old isn’t shy about confronting us with the most pointed of human insecurities, Shyamalan has never been a cynical filmmaker, nor one who pursues an abrasive relationship with his audience, and this film proves no different, following a zippy pop editing rhythm that leaves room for poignant pauses. Traversing a varied emotional spectrum, though ultimately more melancholy than anything else, Old is an all too rare modern Hollywood marvel, eager to confront life’s most dread-inducing questions from a place of hope and romanticism.