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Review: Shyamalan up to his 'Old' tricks in aging thriller


It's the beach trip from hell in the latest thriller from the director of "The Sixth Sense."

M. Night Shyamalan's movies are essentially "Twilight Zone" episodes disguised as movies. He's the Rod Serling of his own universe, and his audiences have come to expect a big twist ending as part of the deal. 

"Old" arrives on a nifty premise: vacationers find themselves on a secluded beach where they soon discover they're rapidly aging. The question, as with all Shyamalans, is what's the twist, and is it an eye-roller? And can Shyamalan stay out of his own way for long enough to make it worth the investment?  

Without giving that twist away — what kind of monster do you think I am? — "Old" is one of Shyamalan's better recent efforts, even if it doesn't reach the levels of his early successes such as "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs." The problem is, well, Shyamalan, who over-exerts himself with showy camera work and mucks up the atmosphere he creates with his clunky writing. Every time you're in, he pulls you back out. 

Guy (Gael García Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) are a married couple who take their two young children, Trent and Maddox, to a splendid tropical resort. It's a last hurrah of sorts, both for them and the kids: they've been experiencing some marital strain, compounded by a pressing medical issue. A beach vacation is what they need to unwind before their world is upended. 

At the resort, they're invited to a remote, secluded beach off-site with a few other guests, including Charles (Rufus Sewell), his wife Chrystal ("The Neon Demon's" Abbey Lee), their young daughter Kara (Eliza Scanlen) and Charles' mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), along with another couple (Ken Leung and Nikki Amuka-Bird). Bizarrely, a successful rapper (Aaron Pierre) is already there on the beach, and even more bizarrely, he goes by the name Mid-Sized Sedan. (Shyamalan could have chosen any name in the universe, and that's what he came up with.) Things go from weird to worse when Trent bumps into a dead body in the water. Pack up the blankets, it's time to head back to the hotel. 

Except they can't leave the beach, and every time someone tries, they black out. And in the blink of an eye, Guy and Prisca notice their young kids are suddenly, gulp, teenagers. (Alex Wolff and "Jojo Rabbit's" Thomasin McKenzie play their now adolescent kids.) Everyone on the beach is quickly aging, at a rate they calculate of about a year every half hour. It's a frightening prospect, almost as disturbing as Shyamalan thinking a rapper would actually call themselves Mid-Sized Sedan.

Shyamalan doesn't so much create tension as he does write himself into a corner, and the challenge is whether he can write himself out of it. (His script is based on Frederick Peeters' and Pierre-Oscar Lévy's graphic novel "Sandcastle.") Distractions abound, including an abrupt pregnancy and Sewell's character's fixation on a Marlon Brando-Jack Nicholson vehicle he just can't seem to put his finger on (it's "The Missouri Breaks"), which make "Old" play more silly than suspenseful. 

When the explanation finally arrives, it's more of a "oh, OK" than it is a head-spinning revelation; it's tough to deliver a doozy when the audience is trained to know one is coming down the pike. But that's the game Shyamalan plays, and "Old" finds him hitting his familiar marks, both for better and for worse. There's a reason it's not called "New."  

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Old'

GRADE: C+

Rated PG-13: for strong violence, disturbing images, suggestive content, partial nudity and brief strong language

Running time: 108 minutes

In theaters