Over the past two decades, moviegoers have come to expect certain things from an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Chief among those is the Shyamalan twist, made famous in The Sixth Sense and continued in almost every film the director has made. That twist is generally a shocking reveal or turn of events that upends the rest of the movie, making a second and sometimes even third viewing essential–for his good films, at least. Where does Old fall on that spectrum? Read our review, or find out for yourself, since it’s out now.
It’s understandable, though, if you don’t actually want to do that. Many of Shyamalan’s movies have been unwatchably terrible, and one glance at Old’s general reviews reveals that this movie is divisive. So maybe you don’t want to spend your precious time and money to go see it in a theater. Maybe you just want to know what the twist is, and move on with your life. OK, fine. You asked for it.
The premise of Old involves a group of people on vacation who get trapped on a beach where they quickly discover they’ve begun rapidly aging–their bodies advance by years after mere hours. They can’t seem to leave, blacking out any time they get near the perimeter. They spend the bulk of the movie dying in horrific ways, from getting stabbed over and over to drowning to plummeting from the top of a massive cliff, all while trying desperately to escape. Throughout the ordeal, they glimpse bright flashes from the top of a far-off ridge–flashes they believe might come from cameras. In other words, they’re being observed and even filmed, which means someone did this to them on purpose.
So what’s the twist? Well, although you might spend the entire movie wondering how this is happening to them, the film never concretely answers that question. In the end, you have to chalk it up to the strange mineral composition of the cliffs that surround the beach.
Instead, Old’s ending answers the question “why.” Why did the people who run this paradisiacal vacation resort seemingly lure this group of people there, then deliberately strand them on this nightmarish beach?
The answer is that the resort is actually a front for a pharmaceutical company with a noble goal: to develop effective medications for diseases and disorders ranging from epilepsy to paranoid schizophrenia. Unfortunately, their methods are not so noble; the researchers use the beach, which they refer to as a natural phenomenon, to accomplish studies in a single day that would normally take entire lifetimes.
They choose guests based on their medical ailments, lure them to the resort with irresistible vacation deals, dose them with experimental medications in their cocktails, and then drop them off at the beach to watch how the medicines affect their bodies over the course of decades, all in a single 24-hour period. When one epileptic victim goes several hours without a seizure, that’s actually equivalent to 16 years in normal time–meaning the drug is effectively a cure to epilepsy.
That’s it. Sure, it’s no “Bruce Willis was dead all along.” The movie leaves breadcrumbs throughout, like drawing attention to the fact that the resort seemingly has a pharmaceutical company associated with it during a conversation between Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps’ characters, or by having characters wonder aloud why all the victims seem to have various medical conditions. In other words, this twist isn’t terribly difficult to see coming. However, it may still prove to be a satisfying answer for why this is happening to these people, and it does provide some extra food for thought as the credits begin to roll.
Have you seen Old? How do you feel about this twist? Let us know in the comments below.