REVIEW

Old, the latest film from The Sixth Sense filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, feels perfectly Shakespearean

Old, M. 109 minutes. 4 stars

The American filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan scored a hat-trick of box office breaking supernaturally-themed thrillers early in his career with the "I See Dead People" spookiness of The Sixth Sense in 1999, the pre-Marvel-verse superhero flick Unbreakable in 2000 and pitting Mel Gibson against some spooky crop circles in Signs in 2002.

Since then his career has followed that law-of-diminishing-returns pattern, not because his films were less well-made, but because his "thing", the "thing" that initially made audiences love his films, became predictable.

That "thing" was part Alfred Hitchcock, part Agatha Christie. It was a sting at the tail of his films, a series of supernatural reveals and twists, and we loved him for it.

The man literally gave audiences what they wanted and they decided it was too much, or not enough. Audiences are fickle things.

His latest film Old is more of that and plenty of international critics are predictably piling on the hate, but I'm bucking the trend. I thought this film was great. Haters gonna hate.

Arriving at a posh and remote tropical island hotel are Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his frosty wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and their pre-teen kids Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and Trent (Nolan River).

Nolan is an inquisitive kid, quizzing hotel guests and making friends with the children of the employees, while mum and dad are fighting and trying to hide their rapidly dissolving marriage from the kids.

Told about a rarely visited beach on the other side of the island, the family agree to a day excursion, and joining them on the hotel-provided mini-bus is the highly strung British doctor Charles (Rufus Sewell) and stunning wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) along with Charles's daughter and elderly mother.

The hotel staff were right - the beach is stunning - but the two families aren't there long when things begin to go awry.

Gael Garca Bernal as Guy and Vicky Krieps as Prisca in Old. Picture: Universal Studios

Gael Garca Bernal as Guy and Vicky Krieps as Prisca in Old. Picture: Universal Studios

Famous rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) is already on the beach, nursing a blood nose as the body of his girlfriend washes up on the shore, and suddenly the families are suspicious of this man.

A new couple arrive, nurse Jarin (Ken Leung) and his wife Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) who we earlier saw have an epileptic seizure in the resort buffet breakfast line.

When Charles's mother dies and the crowd notices that the body of the rapper's girlfriend has become bones and dust, they understand something is happening with time on this exotic beach they seem unable to leave, and then they notice that their young children are no longer young.

M. Night Shyamalan's screenplay is pure stage construction. I can just picture the stage-bound production in years to come. He works from the graphs novel by Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters.

I appreciated the over-theatricality of the set-ups and the lurching from plot point to violent or over-wrought reaction. Paired with the high cliffs, it gives every moment from the arrival of the guests on the beach to the final act a Shakespearean feel. That's an over-used descriptor but I mean it literally. Rufus Sewell becomes Prospero, Gael Garcia Bernal becomes Lear.

Australian model-turned-actress Abbey Lee probably fares the worst in the way her character develops, but again it feels perfectly Shakespearean, a mad Ophelia.

In a film about a rapidly escalated timeline, those big acting moments are plausible.

Shyamalan the director sometimes plays into this stagey approach, sometimes plays against it. He isn't a director to leave the reasoning for the audience's interpretation, you know he's going to spell it out for you before the film ends, but in the meantime he plays with your expectations, and he uses a series of old-school early cinema special effects to build suspense, a nod again to Hitchcock.

Like Hitchcock, the director gives himself a pivotal cameo, and he builds a strong production team around him while constructing his work, notably Trevor Gureckis's music.

This film reminded me of the riddle of the Sphinx - what goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon and three feet in the evening?

If you don't know the answer, you might need to see the film, or do a bit of Wikipedia-ing.

This story Old feels perfectly Shakespearean first appeared on The Canberra Times.