As a high-concept fable about time and aging, Old shows early promise with a group of strangers stranded on a beach where the flow of time means that they will age a full lifetime in the span of just one day. Sadly the writing never comes close to a coherent or thoughtful exploration of these ideas and dialogue is painfully stilted. Instead the premise gets old fast, which would be impressive were it deliberate. Although Shyamalan continues to attract talented actors, there is no depth to characters who are mere cyphers (an actuary worried about future risk married to a museum curator interested in the past) or fodder for the plot, all ultimately hapless victims as the film leans into temporal body horror. Shyamalan remains a victim of early success as — though this is not a film that relies on a grand twist — he does try to cram in narrative complexity at the end, which does little more than highlight an intriguing bioethics angle that might have been more engaging if it were more than an afterthought. Old is a tedious way to lose two hours of your life but at least it is never scary enough to age you prematurely.
“They look exactly like us. They think like us. They know where we are. We need to move and keep moving. They won’t stop until they kill us… or we kill them.”
Jordan Peele’s surprising decision to delve into horror for his debut feature produced the brilliant Get Out but I was a little disappointed that he chose to stick to the genre for his follow up, in which a family is terrorised by their doppelganger “shadows”. He again proves himself an expert at crafting tension, opening with a creepily atmospheric prologue, and particularly in a memorable home invasion scene after the shadow family appear standing silently at the end of their driveway. From then on, over-reliance on horror cliché swiftly dampens the experience. Black Panther co-stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke are both excellent, the former in depicting Adelaid’s traumatic turmoil and the latter in providing much of the comic relief. Indeed, Us arguably communicates part of its message most effectively through moments of levity around the residual awkwardness of the newly affluent black middle class. Unfortunately Peele is more interested in his chosen imagery as a metaphor for distancing ourselves from those we perceive as “other” and wilfully leaving others behind in order to succeed, and the film unravels the wider its focus extends from its tight initial premise, with a mess of illogical steps, broken internal rules and an unsubtle “twist”.
“You like to make fun of us, but we are more powerful than you think.”
The general downward trajectory of Shyamalan’s career has made him an easy target, yet two decades on he can still attract funding and acting talent. Split is, fittingly, a psychological thriller masquerading as horror. Its setup features the abduction of three teenage girls who are subjected to the stereotypical semi-exploitative treatment of horror victims. The tone swiftly shifts as the girls discover their captor exhibits multiple personalities which becomes the movie’s focus and provides for a fresher experience. Although the closing minutes of Split demonstrate it to be a stealth sequel to an early Shyamalan success, setting up a subsequent crossover, the film stands entirely on its own. McAvoy is entertaining as he enjoys chewing through Kevin’s various colourful personalities. Sadly, the remainder of the characters are one-note horror tropes, and too much of the film relies on convention rather than subverting it. Split is Shyamalan’s best work in a long time but cannot be described as a return to his early form.