Old ★★★½

In the novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino writes extensively about how Polanski would compose certain shots from Rosemary's Baby in such a way that audiences were manipulated into leaning forward and trying to peek into parts of the frame that didn't exist. The psychological effect was paramount, at Paramount. Shyamalan approaches OLD in much the same way, using roving cameras, claustrophobic angles, and seemingly impromptu zooms to avoid showing the audience exactly what they want to see. As in Reservoir Dogs and a number of other famous examples, it stokes the viewer's imagination, conjuring up an infinite number of ghastly tableaus without even having to spend money on special effects.

Immediately, the horror of the story becomes personal to every individual watching, and this is already a film rooted in a deep preoccupation with mortality. To watch age, disease, and other forms of decay play out in ramped-up real time can't help but make the viewer feel gross and wet and a few steps closer to death. This internal dread is matched by a number of well-placed alienation effects. Curious omens abound in the opening passages, and as we meet the cast, Shyamalan's offbeat characterization immediately establishes a certain sense of unease, strange enough to be mysterious but not so ludicrous that it turns into THE HAPPENING. This feels like the B-movie he's been building to for decades, an ensemble piece with a thorny mystery and a number of genuine shocks, the natural successor to old-school genre staples like The War of the Worlds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

For its first two-thirds, the film was on its way to becoming a new Shyamalan classic. I enjoyed what followed well enough, but as a conclusion, it's somewhat unsatisfying and feels tacked-on to what preceded it. Without spoiling, I'll say that it's very in keeping with the way GLASS wraps up, only in this case it exists at a thematic remove from the compelling character drama we'd been intermittently treated to beforehand. The buildup has enough of a "mainstream arthouse" flavor that it could've easily sustained a more ambiguous, downbeat ending, and there are several earlier moments at which it could logically cut to black. Regardless, with its bounty of unique visuals and primal terrors, it's definitely a movie I'll be returning to in the future.

P.S. The pandemic is baked into the text even though it's based on a decade-old graphic novel and offers no explicit references to COVID-19. A diverse group of people is plagued by unpredictable and debilitating physical maladies, and in response, they debate the science and go at each other's throats instead of banding together in good faith. It's 2020 in a nutshell.

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