ash’s review published on Letterboxd:
“There’s so many memories we didn’t have, it’s not fair.”
I simply won’t be accepting any M. Night Shyamalan slander anymore, it’ll be considered blasphemy. He really gets too much unwarranted hate for his films and style of direction, when in reality most of his films work far more often than they don’t. When they do work, they function on an efficient level of proficiency that comfortably amalgamates the emotion of his varied characters with the complexity of his stories.
I’m all love for him. I’ve been watching his wonderfully orchestrated films since I was a kid, with the brilliant likes of The Sixth Sense and The Village. He’s a master of his craft, plain and simple. His films handle emotion with a sense of maturity and empathy that I frankly don’t see from many filmmakers. That’s the beauty of what makes his films so special; not only are they unique in their compelling narratives and efficient in their shocking twists, but they are personal, grounded in a tangible sense of humanity and emotion.
There’s a beautiful understanding of the craft that he and DP Mike Gioulakis evince with Old. Through their collaboration, as director and cinematographer, they expose a lifetimes worth of emotion, growth, loss, realisation and pain in under 2 hours; entire lives lived through a single day. They utilise long takes and slow, prolonged camera movements - including some of the best pans in recent years - to explore the fear of ageing and mortality. I’ve always felt Shyamalan is adept with his craft, constantly acclimatising with the material to fit to his strengths and the emotional resonance of his direction; it’s no different with Old.
The long takes and observational camera movements permeate any real sense of time and create a mystical vacuum, in which time reacts differently to our bodies and minds, running quicker than usual. Although time itself feels paused on the beach, isolated from the rest of the world through these prolonged shots that pause any sense of normality, the constant developments in the story, paired with interludes of handheld shots, remind us of of the harsh, paralleled reality of the beach. These long takes are used as a contrast against the accelerated flow of time on the beach, a statement from Shyamalan, on the nature of mortality and age.
Old, through its focus on time and ageing, the fear of it all, comes across as Shyamalan’s ode to the precious, but equally fragile nature of our lives. Paralleling the quickened flow of time on the beach, the long takes embody a tangible sense of fear and resonance that reflect against similar worries in reality; time, life even, can feel paused at times, like nothing is moving, but the reality of the moment is that time is moving as it normally would in our perceived notion of it. This fully human bubble of emotion and worry, of anxiety and loss, of pause, make us feel as time itself has paused, but the world is constantly moving forward, moving on and working its way forward through time. It’s a wholly human fear of loss of time that is scarily portrayed in such distinct detail by Shyamalan and Gioulakis with the technical side of the film, and what results of it is a beautifully personal and resonant statement and even a sort of appreciation of the time we still have.
I think Old is another Shyamalan modern classic, in many senses. A peculiarly fascinating story that is once again explored in intimate detail through Shyamalan’s focus on emotion and human boundaries. Mortality looked at through a magnifying glass, in such intimacy and tangibility with the human fear of losing time. It’s another wonder that tells you everything you need to know about Shyamalan’s maturity as a filmmaker, his perception of the craft, and his own strengths as a writer and director.
See this in cinemas if you can, support it the best you can; to see age and mortality examined through such an empathetic and merciful voice and perspective, where it translates into a vastly mature recognition and appreciation of our own human fears of the irreversible and unchangeable fate of nature, as such with our own mortality and lives, is just beautiful. M. Night deserves all the love and my hope is that he keeps on getting to make evocative, perplexing and emotionally resonant works like Old, because he really is - like he always has been - one of the most exciting filmmakers of our generation, with a gifted approach to cinema and a sensitive view of humanity.