M. Night Shyamalan returns to showcase his mastery of suspense and disturbing atmospheres in a tale worthy of the mythical series “The Twilight Zone”

M. Night Shyamalan is one of those cases of a filmmaker who has established himself as a hallmark and, consequently stretches the seams of the spectators gaze.  There are those who unquestioningly venerate and praise him, and those who challenge everything without a second’s thought. But be that as it may, love him or hate him, there’s no doubt this man has his own style to which and he tends to remain faithful. Ok, so he has made a few less than brilliant movies that only manage to stretch halfway towards his ambitions, but his work always features some element of interest; and it’s no mean feat spending over two decades exploring a language and ending up giving appearing like you have become an indispensable part of it. This is, to a large extent, because Shyamalan is one of the few directors in recent times who understands the framing as a narrative in itself (you only have to see how he always plays with the characters’ willingness in a scene, or how he gives symbolic dimension to resources such as color or what is left for the voiceover) and fully understands that one of the keys to horror films lies in the audiences’ perception. We tend to misunderstand, and he knows it, and as such, his films feed off incomplete expectations and antiheroes who are unaware of their role in reality.

Old” is no exception and from the very outset the movie becomes an exciting exercise in suspense and disturbing atmospheres worthy of the finest episodes of “The Twilight Zone”, dedicated to bombarding the way we understand time and its demiurges. As always, nothing that happens at the beginning is a coincidence and the dialogues and details depicted wind up becoming fundamental in unravelling the knots of the plot. Also with a certain vocation for political incorrectness that Shyamalan began to work on in “The Happening” and which manifested itself in all its splendor in the great “Split” and “Glass”. “Old” is the story of a family with unresolved issues who end up on a paradisiacal island only accessible to a wealthy few, where they discover that people age rapidly. With no apparent reason why, they will be forced to go in search of answers to survive. During the first act, we look for the point of view that identifies more closely with our own, but we won’t find it: Shyamalan creates a series of non-empathetic characters in a hostile environment pitted against an unstoppable enemy – Time – that leaves irreversible consequences. The impact from some scenes resides in this feeling that even by solving the enigma we won’t find the comfort we yearn for, and all we can do is to escape and take full advantage of the time we have left.

Once again, the director gives us a masterclass in how to generate anxiety and discomfort with one single shot. With a character standing in the background, a gesture that prevents us from hearing a dialogue or a match going out and then relighting is enough to construct veritable monuments to tension and horror. Sometimes it’s a single second, or the simple confirmation of an unexpected reaction, but the impact is far greater than any visual underlining accompanied by a sonorous shrillness. Moreover, he succeeds in mutating an idyllic setting into the context of a nightmare without our being fully aware of this change, as the director transforms it into the devastating and subtle counterpoint to the descent into hell of its protagonists. All this narrative brought to bear on the senses and the nuances of a story, is cinema in its purest form. The fact that his work sparks such a divergence of opinion, that it leads to so many debates about the substance and the form of a cinematographic work, does nothing but demonstrate that Shyamalan is indeed one of the greats.

Pep Prieto. Journalist and writer. Series critic on ‘El Món a RAC1’ and for the program ‘Àrtic’ on Betevé. Author of the essay ‘Al filo del mañana’, about time-travelling cinema, and ‘Poder absoluto’, about cinema and politics.