Paul Davis’s review published on Letterboxd:
The king of the high concept thriller is back, baby (after releasing a film I rather enjoyed a year and a half ago, and one I really liked a few years before that, and a pretty good one the year before…), and audiences will be as divided as ever!
Look, it’s the new M. Night Shyamalan movie, so you probably already know if you’re going to like it or not. You can also pretty much guarantee that people will be tripping over themselves to tell you how bad it is and how hard they were laughing throughout. It’s not and you weren’t, shaddup. It’s like a national pastime at this point: he drops a new movie, haters stuff themselves into advanced screenings and theaters on opening weekend so they can be the first to tell you how terrible it is.
While I am admittedly a Shyamalan apologist, and always will be, I legitimately enjoyed this one from beginning to end. Shyamalan is always going to swing for the fences, for which I will never stop applauding him. He is never playing it safe. We get so much tame, recycled crap in the realm of horror, most of which gets fawned over even more the less that happens, so to have someone constantly striving to tell us stories we haven’t heard and explore new facets of horror is a cinematic treat that quite frankly, we don’t deserve.
“This movie was wild, so weird, who thought of this?!” *half star*
I’m gonna go off on a bit of a tangent here, because Letterboxd has become a site that is rife with bandwagon reviews. It sort of frustrates me that I used to be able to trust the star ratings on this website, but lately I’ve been seriously questioning the rankings of many newer films. I think time is going to treat some stuff that we’re tanking very well, while so many movies these users seem so passionate about today, they will never watch again and society as a whole will forget about soon enough.
If he wasn’t a household name and movies like Split and Old sort of quietly came out on Shudder, I bet people would be creaming themselves to try and turn you onto “a small effective thriller!” Since it’s M. Night, even the people that like it preface their positive reviews with, “It was silly fun! I wasn’t expecting much or looking for anything deeper!”
I get why he is not some people’s cup of tea: his ideas are always “out there,” the performances often feel unnatural in such extreme situations, his dialogue can reek of artificiality, he has been pinned down as “the twist guy” and doesn’t always stick the landing. But I think a lot of his universal distain comes about because of his sincerity. Shyamalan fully commits. Every time. He doesn’t half-ass his ideas. He wears his heart on his sleeve, writes unselfconsciously, and does it so sincerely. He clearly tries really, really hard, and is usually proud of what he’s made. And there is nothing more embarrassing, nothing more “cringe-worthy” or deeply unhip, than being unabashedly sincere about your art. Not for horror, at least. We like our artists aloof, sure-footed, and giving the audience a little wink once in a while to let us know they’re above it. Shyamalan doesn’t do that, and we want him to fail for that un-cool part of himself.
Remember a few years ago when everyone decided to start hating Anne Hathaway, in large part because she REALLY wanted to be an esteemed actress, and when she accepted her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress said something from the bottom of her heart along the lines of, “It really happened.” Because she had wanted it for so long and finally got it. Then America was like, “FUCK YOU!” Like her being passionate was so deeply lame and annoying to us, as if it was a theater student or drama club kid (which I’m sure she was) that we went to high school with that was accepting the award. Then Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress, tripped on her way to the stage, posed for a *totally candid* picture of her flipping a reporter the bird in the press conference interview room, and everyone shit their pants over how cool and “real” she was. (Then within a few years, society turned on Lawrence as well, but I think that was mainly because we can’t have a beautiful young woman stay relevant and popular for too long, or we might melt or something). Anyway, I think that people think of Shayamalan sort of like they do Hathaway. It’s just not cool to be that geekily into what you do. I mean, we’ll still go watch what they make, but we’ll make goddamn sure to point out to everyone that we’re still smarter and better than it and it didn’t actually move us or work on us in any way.
Also, let’s just face it, the fact that he’s not white probably doesn’t help much with the constant trash talking of him either. He directs stylized performances that sort of match the otherworldly bizarreness of his films, and people accuse him of having done it on accident because he’s a bad filmmaker, yet David Lynch and Wes Anderson have lifetime passes to allow nonrealistic performances in their films because it’s seen as a quirky choice from an artistic genius. It’s an insane double standard that is revisited every time Shyamalan releases a film.
As for Old itself, it boldly grapples with an existential horror that few studios would dare to drop as a major summer release (which I think speaks volumes about Shyamalan’s boldness more than it does Universal). Old looks the audience square in the fucking face and says, “Think about aging! Think about becoming old and frail, if you’re lucky enough to live that long! Think about your fleeting mortality and what you value most in your life, and how you consistently push those important things to the side instead of nurturing them! Think about how fast your children will grow, and how much of their childhoods, their lives you will miss! Think about the years you’ve wasted, and how fortunate you were to be able to waste them.” It wants you to think about a few other things as well, but I’ll leave it at that. I estimate that roughy 1,389 reviews will use the oh so clever turn of phrase “this gets old fast!” In reality, Old feels quite new.