Let me say up front that I do not expect to see M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie, “Old,” which arrived in theaters last week, for no other reason than that I am traveling and haven’t set foot in a theater in almost two years. But in the past few weeks, I have watched its trailer over and over, enthralled by its combination of existential horror and unintended humor. The trailer introduces us to some people who become trapped on a remote beach, where they begin to age at an insanely accelerated pace. Naturally, they try to figure out what’s happening, floating theories and freaking out. This being a Shyamalan film, the trailer promises they will spend a lot of time looking confused and concerned — the same facial feat Mark Wahlberg sustained across the running time of “The Happening” — and yelling at one another, demanding explanations.
This is a familiar, Manichaean, Shyamalan-ish universe: A diverse group of bewildered souls, alone in a menacing void, earnestly playing out whatever endgame logic the scenario dictates. (It’s as though the director were compelled to continually make big-budget versions of “Waiting for Godot” — you think he can’t go on, but he’ll go on.) So we see a family on vacation, headed to the beach. The cast is soon filled out by others: a couple, a 6-year-old girl, a woman in a bikini making smoochie faces at her phone, two more men. Soon enough, the kids find things in the sand: rusted items from their hotel, cracked sunglasses, late-model iPhones. A young bleach-blonde corpse bobs toward a boy in the water. (She did not die of old age, but will decompose in hyperlapse.) Then the real aging begins. Parents confront their kids’ sudden adolescence. The 6-year-old girl grows up, becomes pregnant and gives birth on the beach. Some greater force is afoot, be it fate, God, time, Facebook or nature. Whatever it is, it clearly doesn’t care how many travel rewards points or memory-making family vacations you had in real life.
Near the start of the trailer, Vicky Krieps’s character dreamily tells her impatient children: “Let’s all start slowing down.” Then everything starts speeding up. At some point she turns to her husband and exclaims, “You have wrinkles!” (The horror!) But of course “Old” will not be an allegory about the importance of sunscreen. What we’re being shown here looks far more like a meditation on mortality wrapped in a cautionary tale about our accelerated lives — about the scariness of time flying and kids growing up too fast, of bodies going to hell and the inescapability of death, and about the ravages we’ve visited upon the Earth, which will remain blanketed in all our fancy garbage long after it has turned us to dust.