McKee’s latest might be enough for his diehard fans, but its stretched runtime makes any interesting happenings too little, too late.
Lucky McKee’s best films are centered around outcasts and misfits — people too odd to fit comfortably into polite society despite their best efforts. That he has ample empathy for them is the beating heart of his project; the horror of his films frequently comes from people doing the wrong things for the right reasons. After all, who doesn’t recognize some bit of themselves in Angela Bettis’ sensitive, awkward portrayal of May? Even an uneven horror-comedy like All Cheerleaders Die takes its characters’ desires to be accepted seriously, as worthy endeavors in and of themselves. McKee’s new Old Man continues this trend, and while it’s ultimately not a particularly successful film, there are enough ideas in place to make it worth a look for the Lucky faithfuls.
Adapted from his own play by writer Joel Veach, Old Man was shot in fifteen days with a minimal crew and limited resources. A true indie effort, its setup is simplicity itself. A smooth camera movement takes in the length of a single room, creeping past minimal decor to find a man sleeping. He wakes with a start, the camera lingering in extreme close-up as the image subtly contorts around the man’s head. Stephen Lang’s unnamed protagonist gets out of bed and begins fussing around this dilapidated cabin. He’s looking for his dog, muttering to himself as he cleans up piss and occasionally stops to take swigs of moonshine. It’s clear enough that something isn’t quite right, as Lang vacillates wildly from bemoaning the pet’s absence to threatening to kill it as soon as he lays hands on it. Suddenly, a knock at the door jolts him out of his stupor, and he grabs a gun. It seems like some hapless hiker named Joe (Marc Senter) has gotten himself lost in the woods and picked the wrong place to ask for help. The unhinged old man threatens Joe with the gun, demanding to know who he is, why he’s here, and if his wife has sent him. Joe is understandably confused (and terrified), doing his level best to calm the old man down and reassure him that he’s simply lost. It’s an agreeably tense beginning, and old pro Lang does a fine job selling his character’s violent confusion. It’s a very self-aware, 180-degree-turn from his recent roles as the almost superhuman blind man from the Don’t Breathe series. Senter comes off as more mannered, although the fact that he seems to be putting on a performance of sorts actually plays into the tension — could he indeed be a serial killer, as the old man fears? And just how much can you really trust a stranger?
Much of the film proceeds along these lines, as the two men feel each other out and try to surmise just exactly what the other may or may not be capable of. As the day progresses into evening, the pair seem to reach a detente of sorts, with Joe gradually revealing more about his marriage troubles and the old man becoming less agitated. It’s a two-hander, with Lang and Senter the only people onscreen until a late flashback finds the old man telling a disturbing story about a chance encounter with a door-to-door salesman. All of this is good and well, but unfortunately, it’s a solid first act that has been stretched to fill an hour of runtime. McKee directs the hell out of it, carving up the interior of the cabin into discrete, fractured pieces of geography as the two men talk. But there’s just not enough here to maintain tension, and the highly stylized dialogue constantly teeters on the edge of absurdity. It gets boring, frankly, and by the time something finally happens to goose the narrative, it’s simply too little, too late. Then there’s the matter of the film’s ending, and while we won’t spoil it, even the most dense viewer will see it coming from a mile away. There’s something valuable here about cycles of violence and regret and the way that memories can haunt us for a lifetime, but this is, at best, a short film contorted and elongated into a numbing 90-minute feature. It’s a noble effort, and one appreciates a shoe-string production really trying to do something different, but Old Man misses the mark.