DocMcCoy’s review published on Letterboxd:
Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan has crafted a bold, auteurist vision in Old. His carefully directed cinematography in the skilled hands of Mike Gioulakis is not only technologically impressive but also a distinctive creative tool to communicate theme (the camera spinning from character to character like the hand of a clock), to obfuscate or reveal important narrative details (the kids faces out of focus or off-frame until their rapid aging is witnessed by their parents, tight close-ups revealing wrinkles) and clever use of P.O.V. to individualize particular moments. The audio is equally carefully designed to enhance the experience, very few directors have the ability to marry the audiovisual and the narrative with such precision. In the face of so much corporate farmed cinema stealing half our theatre screens with authorless uniformity, it is a great pleasure to see a film with power and bold personality.
I have no interest in and generally disagree with popular opinions about Shyamalan as a writer and director, particularly in his post-Village filmography. I don't need my genre cinema to be cynical and ironic, naturalistic and gritty, to follow conventional trends, or whatever combination of these things that modern audiences seem to eat up. He has a distinct voice, his dialogue can be strange, his ideas grand and his stories emotionally sincere. He swings for the fences when he is at his best, and I believe Old to be one of his most brave, sophisticated and ambitious projects.
Alot of what I like about this film is difficult to discuss without spoiling key moments, there are spoilers ahead. This adaptation of the graphic novel; Sandcastle by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Lévy is rich with heavy themes and Shyamalan enriches the story even further in the third act. I'm sure anyone who's seen the trailer or even the poster can gather that mortality and aging are central to the story. We are all going to die and we should do our best to enjoy and appreciate life for this very reason.
The revelation in the third act of the film measures this concept against the state of the world today. Questions about data-mining, climate-change, capitalism and individualism are all present in this film. The experiment that the cast of characters is unwillingly placed in has been orchestrated by a large pharmaceutical company playing a game with human beings under the guise of advancing medical science. This fictional company; Warren and Warren, in conjunction with some sort of data-mining tech giant has found a remote section of nature preserve that, through some sort of mineral interaction, causes people to age a lifetime in the course of a single day. Warren and Warrens algorithm selects people with ailments and disorders to test the longevity and efficacy of their pharmaceutical "cocktails" (they are literally served as cocktails) and they measure the results, then let the island kill them off to wash the blood off their hands.
The ringleader of these experiments claims that "this is what nature wants us to do", as if this piece of nature preserve is meant for this very purpose. As if nature is subservient to the human race, Warren and Warren believes this mission is bigger than nature, that science can make us impervious to the inevitability of time. these equations always benefit the privileged the most while devaluing the less fortunate. These experiments built on the foundation of calculations, formulas and statistics also reinforce ableism and elitist mentalities by placing vulnerable communities at a lower value level than the rest. Just like any modern corporation, there is a method to justify and bury the horrors they enact. “We are saving thousands of lives…millions” (paraphrasing), is preached by the manager to motivate the team of lab scientists. Medical science is important, of course, we can all see that while fighting a global pandemic more clearly than ever before, and I don’t think that Shyamalans point is anti-science. I think a big part of what is being questioned here is a matter of what is important, what is most pressing. Companies driven by capitalism, encouraging consumerism and keeping that good ol’ economy rolling are not served (in their interpretation of the world) by asking these questions. Scientists have attempted for decades to call attention to the irrefutable proof of climate change as one of the most important, complex and largest part of our planet is dying; the ocean. The ecosystem within is essential to our species. I think it’s no mistake that the beach these characters are dying on is littered with garbage, absent of functioning modern technology, and in the ocean is a dying coral reef that provides an escape tunnel for the final two, it is the only way out.. Nature becomes inhospitable in the face of too much damage, leaving future generations with too much to tackle and no time to fix it. The economy is of course, a human construct, whereas ecology is far more important in the long term. This planet isn’t ours, we were just lucky that evolution gave it to us, but it was here before us, and it will be long after.