M Night Shyamalan’s latest film heads into cinemas – and with very light spoilers at most, here’s our review.

It’s probably best to give you an idea of where I am with writer/director M Night Shyamalan’s latest round of films, just to give you some kind of yardstick. Especially so given that his new movie, Old already appears to be dividing responses. I really enjoyed The Visit – a film others struggled with – but then I wasn’t too keen on Split, that lots of people liked. More recently, I seemed to get on better with Glass than most people.

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But still, I’d take any of them over Old I’m afraid, a film I found that occasionally threatened to develop into something a lot more than it turned out to be.

Not that this one is without an interesting setup. Inspired by a Swiss graphical novel called Sandcastle, a family of four are our way in, as they arrive for a much-needed tropical holiday. As you’d expect, there are fractures in the family unit, but that’s a part of the setup the resultant film doesn’t do much more than scratch really. Instead, what follows is a gradually unwinding exercise in just where the hell is all this going.

Twice in my notes I wrote down the letters WTF.

On the surface, where it’s actually going is to a secluded beach at the recommendation of the resort’s manager, with a diverse collection of holidaymakers boarding a bus driven by M Night Shyamalan to what promises to be a luxury place to relax. Each of the characters on the bus – and it’s a big, impressive cast we get – has a need for the holiday, and could really use a day trip to said beach. Standouts include Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell and his shirt, Aaron Pierre, Gael Garcia Bernal and Ken Leung.

There are lots of ingredients for Shyamalan – who also scripts – to juggle. I don’t want to give much of the central premise away, as the slow unwrapping of it all is part of the fun. Just, as the poster and title suggest, aging has something to do with it. It takes a while to get everything set up too, and as much as I like slow movies, it did get to a point where I wanted it just to pick up a little. Still, we get to the aforementioned beach, and it doesn’t take too long from there for, well, things to happen. One very sudden, well executed jolt gets the main part of the film underway, and Shyamalan confidently sets about telling his story.

He really comes across sure of it, too. I get no sense that this is compromised, that this isn’t a story a he wants to tell, and that he’s not telling it in the way he wants to.

Yet surprisingly, it doesn’t take long for it all to lose its grip. There’s a moment early on, really effectively done, where I shuffled to the edge of my seat as tensions rose. Disappointingly, I was soon slap bang back in the middle of it, with barely a hint of moving again. It’s not that things weren’t happening in the movie, it’s just that this is a film that veers from using dialogue to do a lot of heavy lifting (there’s a lot of explaining at times), to then holding visual moments back as long as it can. Both, in the end, get quite frustrating.

What surprised me too was how limited in the end the playbook was. Setting a movie primarily in one location inevitably affords some challenges as to how to keep presenting the same place, no matter how beach-y it is. In the case of Old, going spoiler light, Shyamalan constantly relies on slowly moving the camera around, and then drifting it back to where we started, the implication being that something’s changed when it gets there. It’s a lot of build up, even more build up, a bit more build up, and then something I didn’t find myself really caring about. Then, it’s a reset, as the build up starts again.

There are flashes and sparks in the midst of it. A glorious close-up shot of Rufus Sewell at one stage I found suddenly disarming, and in a film that’s dry on the comedy side, there’s one killer line that might just bring the house down. But then we’re back with a bunch of characters I struggled to warm to, as they work out what it is about the place they’re in that’s causing some stuff to happen.

As more and more is revealed, my head felt like it was starting to close in a bit, and I’m not fully sure that the film earns its last 10 or 15 minutes. I’m conscious others warmed to it more, but the whole thing just felt like it was going quietly mad, and not in a particularly enjoyable way.

Instead, I left Old feeling a bit deflated, my head sore from being scratched so much. On the one hand, grateful that Shyamalan has carved out a place where he can make a film like this on his terms. On the other, just wishing it was, well, a bit better…

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