“Old” has all the idiosyncrasies audiences have come to associate with M. Night Shyamalan the artist, from the deliberately-heightened dialogue that never quite sounds natural to the stylized visual compositions that don’t always work yet never fail to grab your attention. There’s also the somewhat gleefully sadistic edge that’s found its way into Shyamalan’s films since “After Earth,” with characters often dying in over-the-top gruesome ways that seem designed to get viewers hooting and hollering just as much as — if not more than — crying out in horror. Even Shyamalan joins in on the fun with his trademark cameo, casting himself as a character who all but winks at the camera as he leads the film’s protagonists to their doom.
Of course, there’s stuff that flat-out doesn’t work in “Old,” like the film’s insensitive and inaccurate portrayal of mental illness (a recurring problem in Shyamalan’s work), or a big reveal during the third act that only seems to exist because, well, people expect Shyamalan’s films to include twist endings. Then there are the quasi-conservative, almost puritanical overtones that tend to keep finding their way into Shyamalan’s movies, although interpretations vary greatly on that subject (see also: the debates about what his most recent horror-thriller, “Knock at the Cabin,” is even going for thematically).
Despite all that, the visuals in “Old” are as warped as its plot and will embed themselves in your brain long after watching the film. Moreover, the film’s story itself is all about the dramatically different ways people confront their mortality, so in a sense it almost feels appropriate that Shyamalan, much like his characters as they scramble to escape the beach that makes you old, doesn’t always appear to have a firm grip on the steering wheel.