Old Wrapped Things Up A Little Too Neatly

M. Night Shyamalan's "Old" has a premise bound to creep everyone out — aging a whole lifetime within a single day. It's an amazing set-up, but it fails to stick the landing. The conclusion of "Old" rushes to tie up every unresolved plot point so quickly that none of the explanations feel satisfying. Despite everything that the movie does right, the last twenty minutes ruin what could have been one of the most memorable horror movies of the decade.

In the 2021 thriller, a family facing health and marital troubles takes a vacation at a secluded beach resort. The family — which consists of father Guy, mother Prisca, and children Trent and Maddox — is soon led to a private beach with a small group of other guests, where their aging processes are suddenly accelerated by an unknown force.

As the film progresses, the group realizes that they are unable to surpass the rock barrier that lines the interior edge of the beach. They conclude that the rocks are the cause of their aging. Just when they have lost all hope, Trent remembers an encoded message given to him by the hotel manager's nephew. He decrypts the message and it says "my uncle doesn't like the coral." Trent and his sister Maddox — the only surviving members of the party — take this as a sign and escape to safety through a batch of coral. As the siblings make their escape, a new layer of the movie is revealed.

It has you on the edge of your seat — at first

The group was placed on the beach by a group of scientists, with Shyamalan himself playing a guard who watches the folks trapped on the beach. The scientists use the beach to test the life-long effects of medications within a single day. They justify the deaths of their test subjects because they use data to put life-saving drugs onto the market more quickly. Their underground operations are foiled later that same day when Trent and his sister escape. Trent immediately alerts the police to what happened on the beach and the lab is thrown into chaos. Shyamalan is known for his twist endings, but this twist ties every loose end in a far-too-neat bow.

"Old" starts out as an exciting movie with mystical elements and terrifying body horror. A woman with a bone disease becomes a deformed, spidery creature. A little girl becomes a pregnant teenager within a day. A man loses his mind and murders someone. These events all feel virtually inexplicable at first, but the scientific explanation is unraveled slowly. The characters learn that they are each suffering from different health conditions and that the rocks are holding them hostage. When Trent and Maddox are the only two left standing, this steadily-paced storytelling goes into double-time, and every unresolved issue is wrapped up in rapid sequence.

In the last twenty minutes, the trouble starts

The ending takes its first turn for the worst when Trent remembers the note that his friend wrote him. His sudden memory feels totally out of the blue. If Trent had decoded this message too early, he may never have been able to deduce its meaning. The note about how the hotel manager "doesn't like the coral" inspires Trent to immediately assume the coral is a path to safety. This feels like a bit of a stretch, even after the rest of the ending is revealed. Maybe the hotel manager didn't like the coral because the test subjects would die swimming out to it, costing him precious data? These narrative conveniences feel lazy, but they definitely could have been overlooked if not for what comes next.

The most mystical elements of "Old" — the powers of the coral and the rocks — remain totally untouched by explanation. Shyamalan keeps the biggest mystery of the film open-ended, chalking it up to the wonders of the natural world. The group of main characters is gathered together and placed on the beach for a scientific reason. This begs a more thorough scientific explanation for the rapid aging effects of the rocks and the purifying effects of the coral. Instead, the director leaves us guessing.

And just like that, it's over

When the scientists are introduced, it opens up a whole new world within the universe of "Old." The lab is intriguing and morally complex, but we see very little of it. It would have been interesting to understand more about the scientists, but they are introduced quickly and rushed offscreen. 

Since over seventy trials are said to have been executed in quick succession, it seems unlikely that the police or even the FBI would not have caught wind of these operations before. At first, the audience might assume that the government has allowed the scientists to conduct their experiments for the greater good. How else would they have managed to kill seventy groups of presumably wealthy people, including full families with young children, without alerting the authorities? 

This possibility is quickly ruled out when Trent alerts a police officer. The scientists abandon the lab and it's clear that they won't be coming back. It's disappointing — and wraps everything up much too quickly. It would have been much more interesting if the nefarious goings-on in the lab were backed by the government. Did the government turn the other way, sacrificing the few to save the many? Did they have a hand in the dealings themselves? Could this have gone all the way to the top? Sadly, the buck stopped with the scientists, condensing what could have been an elaborate global conspiracy into the walls of the hotel. We'll just have to make do with the rest of the movie, which works much better than its clunky, rushed conclusion.