When Old actress Alexa Swinton hit the sandy yellow carpet for the movie’s world premiere Monday night at the Jazz at Lincoln Center, she was like most everyone else there to see the new M. Night Shyamalan movie — excited but unsure of what the director had in store.
“The ending changed!” Swinton, who plays the 11-year-old version of young beachgoer Maddox and saw an early cut of the Universal Pictures film, told The Hollywood Reporter. “So I haven’t seen how it ends.”
It’s not all that surprising in light of director Shyamalan’s comments from a panel at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, during which he expressed that he was still working on the ending. “I’m deciding on the minor note; how to end on a minor note,” Shyamalan said. “The minor note sticks to you forever.”
However, it is a fitting twist for the director and producer that’s built a career off of delivering the unexpected. Especially as Old is based on an already completed work: Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters’ graphic novel Sandcastle.
Despite Sandcastle‘s ending being readily available, the writer-director’s cinematic adaptation is loose, making another one of his comments at his Tribeca panel — that “no one has ever seen anything like it” — even more eye-brow raising.
“It’s got a bit of a different ending than his other movies and I feel like that makes it not only unique but also special and even more fun to watch,” said Luca Faustino Rodriguez, who also had not seen the final cut, but plays the 11-year-old version of Trent, one of three children visiting the beach.
Swinton also teased part of what she thinks the director’s declaration means, particularly in light of his library of work. “I guess it feels like you have closure,” she said, before quickly doubling back with a coy smile. “I mean — I think, for this one specifically, you get a little bit more closure at the end.”
During Monday night’s New York premiere, which Shyamalan attended with his family, some of the Old cast echoed that promise of Shyamalan delivering something viewers have yet to see.
Actor Alex Wolff — who plays an older, but still childlike version of Trent — was adamant that there’s nothing in Shyamalan’s library to compare it to. “Really, that’s not a cop-out. This is really different. It’s really individual. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. I would say couple it with none of [his other movies],” he said.
Shot in the Dominican Republic within a COVID-19 bubble while facing various environmental-based hurdles, including “four to five hurricanes” the director said on the Rose Theater stage, Old is an emotional family drama buried beneath the sand and waves of a mystery-thriller that Wolff calls both “existential” and “weird.”
“I really see it as kind of an allegorical existential sort of meditation on getting older,” Wolff said. “I think it’s juggling four or five ideas at the same time.”
Other cast members pointed to what some of those thematic messages Shyamalan is juggling are.
“Night’s asking us not to take nature for granted,” actress Nikki Amuka-Bird said of how the film uses the illusion of a place of sanctuary and relaxation as a source of fear. “We’re talking about the most powerful force that any of us are subject to as humans. So in the film, the beach is like another character.”
“Time is one of the biggest common denominators of existence,” actor Gael García Bernal told THR about how the film’s characters navigate themes of aging and death. “We never get to experience how time travels differently for someone and for another person. To even question that and to accept that premise is already a really weird concept that’s very difficult to interpret.”
The film’s various themes also manifest directly through individual characters. While Amuka-Bird says her character Patricia has “had to deal with her mortality most of her life so she’s someone who feels lucky to be the age she is,” Bernal’s character Guy is a father, husband and “a very logical mathematical kind of person” who is “the most anal-retentive, in psychoanalytic terms,” the actor said. That results in him dealing with the island’s mysterious aging powers differently.
“My character represents the most extreme type of acceptance of this system that dictates who we are and what we are and the way we should do this or that or we shouldn’t do these things when put into a place where none of these rules matter,” he said.
Meanwhile, actress Vicki Krieps, who plays Prisca, wife of Guy and the mother of Trent and Maddox, said her character “really exemplifies the power of love.”
“Love and family and all these things that are much stronger than any fears — the fear of aging and the fear of death,” Krieps continued. “She’s really saying, ‘Guys, stop running because we’re dying anyway.’ Instead of running from something that is already happening, just enjoy the moment.”
“It is interesting going through fear with your family because it can be the most terrifying way to go through fear or the most comforting way,” Wolff told THR.
Though some cast members say the film is totally different from Shyamalan’s other entries, trailers and the film’s title seemingly tease a story that still embodies not only Shyamalan’s penchant for praying on our shared fears, or “bogeymen” as Amuka-Bird calls them, but encapsulates his dedication to exploring themes around family, remote locales, the unknown and even hope.
“I think this film is about a very specific and real fear — our mortality — and [Shyamalan] uses that to bring out surprising dynamics,” Amuka Bird said.
“This film is about utilizing our time as opposed to being fearful,” actor Aaron Pierre, who plays one of the beachgoers, rapper Mid-Sized Sedan, told The Hollywood Reporter on the premiere carpet.
But what could make the film the most unlike “any other film” of Shyamalan’s, is that it simply represents yet another “particular period of his creative space,” Pierre said. One where what defines the filmmaker’s latest go is less so any twist and more so the movie’s themes, which were influenced by the pandemic and his own personal life, including his three daughters, who encouraged him to read Sandcastle.
“In my perspective, it represents this new phase in his life,” Ishana Night Shyamalan, Old’s second unit director and the director’s daughter said. “I think it just represents a profundity he sees in the world and the beauty in all people that’s always in his films — but really kind of on steroids.”