Film

Film: M Night Shyamalan on tackling the ravages of time in his chilling thriller Old

The Sixth Sense director M Night Shyamalan brings together an international cast for his new mystery, where beachgoers start to age rapidly, Laura Harding learns more...

Gael Garcia Bernal and M Night Shyamalan on the set of Old
By Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor

EVER had the feeling that your life is slipping away, while you’re stuck in one place and time just disappears?

After the year we have all had, it must surely be impossible to say no.

And it’s the feeling that’s at the centre of director M Night Shyamalan’s mysterious and chilling new thriller Old, about a family on a tropical holiday, who discover that the beach they are enjoying is causing them to age rapidly, reducing their whole lives to a single day.

As they all mourn the lives they might have led, one character says poignantly: “We have missed so much.”

“A lot of people connect with that moment because of the pandemic,” Shyamalan (50) says ruefully.

“My daughter turned 16, didn’t have a 16th birthday, my other daughter turned 21, didn’t have a 21st birthday, she didn’t walk in her graduation.

“It feels like we missed these rituals that allow us to demarcate time in a way that makes us more comfortable.

“Time is moving so fast for them on this beach that you’re either in the past, thinking about what you lost, or in the future thinking ‘Oh my God, this is going to happen too quickly.

“And all the characters that are chasing time that way, or are not in sync with time, they have a very bad ending.”

Fans of Shyamalan’s other films – including The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Split and Glass – might not be surprised to hear that. His films always carry a brutal sting.

Old stars Mozart In The Jungle actor Gael Garcia Bernal and Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps as a couple on what will be their last holiday together with their children, aged 11 and six, before they plan to divorce.

But their luxurious trip to a secluded beach with other guests of the resort takes a dark turn when the adults realise in quick succession that their phones do not work, they cannot leave the beach, and their children are aging rapidly before their eyes, at the rate of two years an hour, reducing 50 years into a single day.

“I think I’ve been naturally moving to this kind of two or three tier conversation of generations,” Shyamalan says.

“Even in the last movies when I was thinking about Split [about three girls kidnapped by a man with split personality disorder], I was very cognisant about what each of their generations were feeling, and I think Old is continuing in that vein – of making sure that the point of view of my daughters is represented in the movie. My point of view clearly represented in Gael and Vicky’s characters, and then my parents are, and what they’re going through and what that could mean.”

Hereditary star Alex Wolff plays the couple’s son Trent as he starts to age.

The actor (23) first found fame as a child alongside his older brother Nat in the Nickelodeon series The Naked Brothers Band, and is no stranger to the feeling of the rapid passing of time.

“I think the pandemic has really crystallised that idea of feeling stagnant and trapped, and feeling like time is moving at an alarmingly rapid, almost exhaustingly quick rate.

“But even before the pandemic, for me, time just races. If I look left, I see how recently I was just a little wee soybean.”

Leave No Trace star Thomasin McKenzie (20), who plays their ageing daughter Maddox, has also ben acting since she was a child and can relate.

“The whole concept of ageing and of time is something I constantly think about.

“I’m constantly checking my watch and making sure I’m on track, or just making sure I’m not worrying about running out of time, or not having enough time to do the things that I want to do to, at as good a quality as I can do them.”

But for all the existential crises, the film, shot on a beach in the Dominican Republic, was made at the height of the pandemic, when the material felt brutally resonant, but creatives were also just relieved to be working.

“The actors and myself and the crew members, we felt very grateful to be to be doing our art form, and we took it very seriously in a way that maybe we wouldn’t have before.

“We knew that this was a gift that we were given. And it did help us so much.

“We were outside in nature. We didn’t know what to do with this outside threat that was happening to us, and we were forced to slow down on this beach for those months that we were there.

“It felt very much what the characters were going through.”

Mexican star Bernal (42) who found fame in films such as Amores Perros, Y tu mama tambien and The Motorcycle Diaries, agrees.

“This pandemic brought us a new concept of our lives and time and how we organise ourselves.

“That was something I would mention to people a lot whenever they asked me what was I doing. I said, ‘I’m finally watching the plants grow’ and feeling a little bit like I had missed that in my life.”

And while filming on a beach brought its own unique set of challenges, it also helped root the story and therefore the cast in nature.

“It is wonderful to shoot like that, because we go according to the weather.

“If it rains and it was possible to shoot, we would shoot. If it rained and it was impossible to shoot, then we would stop. And we would be barefoot all the time, we would be in the same costume all the time.

“We would have open air and space and the ocean and the wall in the back – it was like being on stage. You don’t need more elements.”

Old is released in cinemas on July 23.

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