The latest horror flick from the singular mind of M. Night Shyamalan, Old, has finally released and audiences are finding out for themselves whether it lives up to the hype. We’ve gone in-depth on the more spoiler-filled aspects of the movie, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t even more aspects to dig into and gain insight from. The writer/director himself is breaking down a specific sequence from the film and his explanations into his thought process are as revealing as they are fascinating.
Shyamalan joined Vanity Fair for their latest episode of “Notes on a Scene,” an ongoing series where they invite filmmakers to discuss some of the biggest moments from their latest films or shows in fine detail. Here’s the 15-minute long video, which explores the pivotal scene (as well as the lead-up to it and the aftermath) where the action goes from innocent fun on the beach to something much more sinister and disturbing.
Old Scene Breakdown
The sequence in question deals with a young six-year-old Trent (Nolan River) swimming in a small alcove at the beach, blithely enjoying himself until a corpse floats up behind him and scares him right out of the water.
Shyamalan describes this sequence as the climax of an “escalation of genre.” To this point, Old has progressed from an unassuming “slice of life” film about a vacationing family, to the drama stemming from Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and Guy’s (Gael García Bernal) strained marriage, to hints of mystery regarding the beach itself and the unexplained silverware from the hotel that the kids discover. This, finally, marks the transformation into horror/thriller territory.
According to Shyamalan, Trent slowly becoming aware of the corpse is the basic screenwriting equivalent (not the quality equivalent!) of the Die Hard “Terrorists take over the building” or Titanic’s “The ship hits the iceberg” points of no return. In Old, everything from this point onwards is a nonstop momentum-builder as the remaining characters have to navigate an ever-increasing amount of horror. The director also goes into how his use of color, handheld cameras in water throughout the film, and predominantly primal sounds and music cues all combine to add to audience unease and tension.
M. Night Shyamalan has gone out of his way to heap praise on the inspiration for Old, the graphic novel called Sandcastle that he received as a Father’s Day gift from his daughters and which he loosely based this film on. He name-checks both The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror episodes as tonal comparison points that came to mind while reading the existential story of a beach that rapidly ages hapless visitors.
When it came to specific moments — such as the sequence where the children are playing freeze tag on the beach while the camera is zooming and moving along with them at extreme angles and speed — Shyamalan mentions Australia’s New Wave movement of the ’70s (particularly the Peter Weir film, Picnic at Hanging Rock) at around the 1:45 mark in the video as an example of how intentionally jarring he wanted this single long take to be. It’s fairly obvious how the children’s game involving freezing in place plays into the time-centric themes of the film, which adds “a sense that the kids are in kind of the present.” This is repeatedly used throughout Old to indicate when characters are “timeless” and aren’t thinking about anything else.
Also worth noting: he claims they shot this scene around 40 times, as he gave the camera operator the freedom to improvise movements along with the actors until they got the cadence and rhythm of the scene just right.
These tidbits don’t even scratch the surface of everything Shyamalan covers in this video, so be sure to check out the video in full if you watched Old and came away wondering just what went into each and every visual choice he made. Regardless of how you felt about the film itself, it’s always a pleasure to gain more insight into the actual filmmaking process directly from the source.
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