M. Night Shyamalan has a polarizing effect on people. The hotly anticipated Old is a perfect example of all that is good and bad about his work. It is gorgeously shot, meticulously intimate, and he really knows how to get the best out of his actors. Unfortunately, that also means the film is pretty great until the last fifteen minutes when the big reveal is presented, and all of the punch the film would have had gets eclipsed by the triteness of the conclusion.
Except for The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, fans either loved his other films or hated them. There isn’t any middle ground. Excluding The Happening, I have enjoyed his other films even if I could see the twist coming. Old in theaters today will be another that is as maligned as it is lauded. The one thing you won’t see coming is the insane twist. The bizarre plot beat that explains(kind of) what is happening on the beach is not something you will guess because it is so outlandishly insane, no one ever would imagine it. Here’s everything you need to know about that wild twist and the bleakish ending of Old.
The origins of Shyamalan’s Old
The graphic novel that this film is based on is called Sandcastle. It is a study of the human condition. Thirteen people of various ages find themselves stuck on a deserted island where time moves mysteriously. One hour on the island is two years in their lives. As older family members die off and children become adults, they all must face their failings, fears, and ultimately their mortality. None of the people ever escape the island in the novel, and the mystery is never explained. CBR reports Peeters said they initially had a twist that would save someone, but it was scrapped as it wasn’t true to the story’s conceit. The novel was never about the island’s secrets but about the mortal inhabitants. It is an allegory for life and death. Levy and Peeters’ work is dread-filled and nihilistic. The only thing sure in Sandcastle is death.
The plot of Old the movie is definitely not an existential study on the condition of living and dying. Instead, it is the exposure of big pharma hubris and conspiracy theories. So don’t expect to find the village is a secluded bunch of off-the-grid livers hiding from the modern world. Also, don’t expect to find that the human monster kidnapping people also has multiple personalities, one of which is an actual monster. Instead, you will find a bunch of amoral white coats on a mission to experiment on unsuspecting victims.
Time is important
It’s all about time. The importance of living in the moment instead of constantly looking to the future or holding onto the past. Conversations and epiphanies made by the beachgoers expose the best and worst of humanity. It is our nature to look for greener pastures, whether those be new loves, physical places, memories, or future times. The doomed vacationers experience a lifetime of pleasure and pain in just a few hours. It would destroy you to be robbed of your time with your children. Instead of having the chance to raise your children and instill in them love, confidence, kindness, and vitally important life values, you are forced to watch as your body betrays you and your children become people you don’t recognize.
Children grow into adolescents and then adults in a matter of hours. With that rapid growth comes responsibilities and pain that only a parent can understand. Sweet six and four-year-olds Trent and Kara mature into young adults and are met with the kind of consequences neither is ready for. It is heartbreakingly poignant to watch Prisca try to prepare her son, who was just a baby himself a couple of hours ago, what Kara is going through as she gives birth to a baby they conceived twenty minutes earlier. It is both shocking and deeply moving. The best parts of the film lie in these places. It is here that Shyamalan shines. In particular, he brings out the best in Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie, who exudes wholesome determination as they doggedly try to become the grown-ups they have to be.
Who lives and dies?
First, Mid-Sized Sedan’s new girlfriend died by drowning, as we later find out. Next, Dr. Charles’ mother dies of old age, followed by Mid-Sized Sedan, who gets stabbed to death by Charles in a fit of mania. Next comes Kara’s newborn, who dies of starvation and dehydration in a matter of one minute. Next is Ken Leung’s Jarin, who dies trying to escape. After that, the rest of the dominoes fall in quick order. Kara tries to climb a cliff and falls to her death, and Abbey Lee’s Chrystal, in the most gruesome body horror sequence, ages into an old hag who breaks and heals her bones in wrong positions until she is a mangled mess. It is the one true horror element of the film. The rest is almost entirely esoteric.
Lastly, Patricia and Charles both die because of their illnesses. Patricia, who is suffering from Epilepsy, has several Grand Mal seizures killing her, and Charles, who is struggling with dementia and schizophrenia, goes mad and tries to kill Guy resulting in him getting stabbed by Prisca with a rusty knife. So that left only our core family, and Prisca and Guy die later that night in the arms of their children, who tenderly care for them as they quietly love each other. This scene mirrors what often happens in real life as adult children care for their aging parents.
This left only Trevor and Maddox, who are in their forties by the time the sun comes up. The two decide to make a sandcastle and reflect on the fact that they still feel like kids. They wonder if all adults feel this way or just them. In reality, any adult can tell you there are still moments of such pure happiness that you do still feel like a kid again.
The ending of Old explained
The devastating ending of Old would be emotionally resonant if encapsulated. If Trevor never deciphered Idlib’s coded message and they never escaped the beach. As it is, Shyamalan is faced with pulling the curtain back and revealing nothing more than a calculating mad scientist saving the world by killing vacationers one family at a time. The entire resort was a front for a pharmaceutical company that used all the unique botanicals and the bizarre beach anomaly to conduct drug trials on unconsenting people. The trick was they advertised with big drug stores, so when you had prescription filled, you got an advertisement for the resort, and they got all your medical history. Think of the massive CVS receipts with an ominous marketing scheme attached. This allowed the resort/lab to lure in patients to give drugs to in the guise of the cocktails they gave everyone.
When the patients were selected to go to the beach, it was because of their diseases. Patricia had Epilospy, Prisca had a stomach tumor, Mid-Sized Sedan had a rare clotting disorder, and Charles had schizophrenia and early-onset dementia. Charles’ wife, Chrystal, had a calcium deficiency, but it is unclear if she was part of the experiment. The day-long trial proved in a matter of hours instead of years that the Epilepsy drug Patricia was given was effective. So in the eyes of the lab, the deaths of everyone on the beach were justified.
After Trevor decode the message that revealed what everyone already deciphered months ago, “My Uncle hates the coral,” the siblings determine the coral field must have properties that would allow them to swim through it instead of passing out. Everyone else who tried to swim, walk, or climb to safety dies because the island anomaly makes everyone who enters unable to leave. It is similar to getting the bends after deep water diving. Somehow the coral field negates that effect, and the siblings can swim through it and around the beach to safety. Once back at the resort, they bring a journal from another victim to a police officer Trevor met the day before. That opens the flood gates, and the entire medicinal house of cards comes crashing down.
The film is intense and horrifying for the fear it capitalizes on. Humans are afraid of aging. It’s part of our DNA. The black as night conclusion of Old forces us to watch as a family is robbed of their time together. Instead of growing old gracefully and enjoying being parents and then grandparents, almost everyone dies. This is probably where things should have ended. Leave the rest a mystery. It would have more punch if the twist were a non-twist like the graphic novel. There are no answers. It would mean anything could happen at any time. Instead of the punch in the gut the big twist was supposed to garner, I was left with a sense that all of the hard-fought revelations were for not. It is supplanting them with a cheap thrill.
Old was an experience best enjoyed with a thoughtful heart, low horror expectations, a handful of tissue, and the ability to leave before things get too ridiculous. Old is in theaters right now. For all our Old coverage, click here and to find all our explained posts here.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.