In 'Old,' M. Night Shyamalan Takes Us To The Beach : Pop Culture Happy Hour The psychological horror thriller Old comes with the kind of twist we've come to expect from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan. That twist is right there in the title: A bunch of tourists find themselves trapped on a secluded beach where they all age at an alarming rate.

In 'Old,' M. Night Shyamalan Takes Us To The Beach

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The psychological horror-thriller "Old" comes with the kind of twist we've come to expect from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan. That twist is right there in the title. A bunch of tourists find themselves trapped on a secluded beach where they all age at an alarming rate. I'm Stephen Thompson. And today we are talking about "Old" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.

Here with me today is NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Welcome back, Ayesha.


THOMPSON: It's so great to have you. Also joining us for the first time ever is Morning Edition producer Marc Rivers. Welcome to the show, Marc.

MARC RIVERS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me. Good to be here.

RASCOE: Yay (laughter).

THOMPSON: Oh, it's great to have you here. So "Old" is set more or less entirely on a tropical beach where several couples and families have been brought together to spend a relaxing afternoon on vacation. They include ‎Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps as a couple whose marriage is in trouble. They're there with their two very precocious children, played by actors of varying ages. There's also a very creepy doctor, played by Rufus Sewell. As soon as Rufus Sewell pops up in your movie, you know he's up to something. Nikki Amuka-Bird and Ken Leung are a couple whose backgrounds as a therapist and a nurse both come into play. There's even a rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan, who is...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

RIVERS: Love that name.

THOMPSON: ...Played by Aaron Pierre. Basically, you have a group of people, varying ages and backgrounds. All of them, under mysterious circumstances, begin to age at a rate equivalent to about one year per half-hour. So this movie moves quickly.

You get some, as you can imagine, grim consequences and a lot of body horror, more violence than you might expect from a PG-13 movie, and a great big mystery at the center. It's all based on a graphic novel called "Sandcastle" by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. And it's in theaters beginning today.

Ayesha, I'm going to start with you. What did you think of "Old"?

RASCOE: So, you know, when I get on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR, I've pretty much liked everything I reviewed. This movie tested that - tested the streak.


RASCOE: And I'm sitting there thinking, is the streak going to last? I really like M. Night Shyamalan, but - and no disrespect to Mr. Shyamalan - but there have been some misses in what he - and I know he puts his heart...

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Yes, there have.

RASCOE: I know he puts his heart into everything, but there have been some misses. And so the movie - I was drawn into it. I felt like, at times, it was very long. It dragged at points for me. It does telegraph a lot. Like, there were some things that were like, OK, I can see what's coming here. There was some things where I felt like, does this island also affect memories because there was something that I felt like no one remembered that I felt like could have made a difference.


RASCOE: I'm just going to leave it at that. But I was thinking about it, and I didn't know why they didn't. And so I don't know, like, as a movie, like, is the audience supposed to know that? You know, as an M. Night Shyamalan movie, it's all about the ending. I'm not giving away the ending, but I found the whole movie - there were touching moments, right? And I feel like I was satisfied with the conclusion, which is what is the big question mark with any M. Night Shyamalan movie, is am I going to be satisfied with the conclusion? So I would say for this movie, if you like M. Night Shyamalan movies, if you can like an M. Night Shyamalan movie...


RASCOE: ...Then I would recommend this. If you're the type where you don't like them, then I don't think this is the movie for you. It doesn't transcend, I guess, is what I'm saying.


RASCOE: I feel like there were things to like. It just was way too long for me.

RIVERS: Yeah, I kind of agree with Ayesha. I mean, if you are not already a convert on the Shyamalan, like - on the Shyamalan Express...


RIVERS: ...Like, this will not persuade you to get on board.

RASCOE: No (laughter).

RIVERS: The thing is, I want to see this movie again, but I don't know if it was good. I feel like with Shyamalan, you always have to take his best impulses with the worst.


RIVERS: And it's like his best impulses always run up against his worst impulses. So for every moment where you're thinking, oh, like, that was unexpected, that was interesting, it just runs into a wall of hokey dialogue or just bad screenwriting. So you've always got to take the pluses with the minuses with him. I was definitely involved. I wasn't bored. You know, I laughed. Probably, I shouldn't have been laughing sometimes, but I laughed anyway.

RASCOE: But there were a lot of laugh lines. Like, there were some good laugh lines.

RIVERS: There were some good laugh lines. There are a couple of genuine laugh lines. Yeah. And I respect that Shyamalan, like, can be funny and wants to be funny and also unsettle you at the same time. So yeah, there were things about the movie that I think people appreciate, particularly this idea that, you know, you kind of got old without even realizing what was happening. I feel like in the age of COVID-19 and shutdowns and a pandemic, I think that might resonate probably a little too closely with some.

THOMPSON: Yeah, like, I woke up and all of a sudden, I'm a year and a half older.


RIVERS: Exactly. So for that, it might resonate in that way, but I'm all-in on Shyamalan. As far as I'm concerned, you know, he can keep making movies.


RIVERS: You know, I'd take this over an assembly line thing from Disney any day of the week. Just give me more Shyamalan. I'm fine with it.


THOMPSON: Yeah, I kind of came down somewhat similarly. Like, I found myself engrossed by it. I found myself occasionally grossed out by it. I found it involving. But I do have an issue with a lot of M. Night Shyamalan movies where I find it's really hard to get lost in what he's doing. And by that, I mean, like, it's hard to get fully invested in the world you're seeing on screen because you are constantly trying to unlock the formula, kind of unlock the puzzle. And I mean, I love a good puzzle, but you're kind of just sitting there like, what's the twist? What's the twist? What's the twist? What's the twist? And that can make it hard to get fully involved. And so I didn't feel like this movie dragged the way Ayesha did. But I did kind of find myself like, all right. Get to the fireworks factory. Explain what's going on.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

RIVERS: But, you know, I wonder if that's just our fault. I think...

THOMPSON: Could be.

RIVERS: ..."The Sixth Sense" has such a wonderful dismount, you know, that...

RIVERS: (Laughter).

RIVERS: ...We're waiting...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

RIVERS: ...For the dismount now with every movie. But if you look at his past works, they don't all have twists at the end.



RASCOE: But they pretty much...


RASCOE: ...Have something. They have something.

RIVERS: They have some...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

RIVERS: ...Kind of, like, turn. It, like - it kind of makes you, like, kind of rethink, like, what he's about. And I think the problem is that so many of his endings - he kind of uses them as a way to, like, let you know how smart he is. Here's what you thought this movie was, but here's what it actually is. And that answer isn't always satisfying - not to get into this one, but...


THOMPSON: Yeah. And I did find the ending satisfying the way that Ayesha did. Marc, you alluded to issues with the script. And I do think there are some real clunkers in this particular script. And it has this issue where, by nature, it is an overstuffed movie. It's got...


THOMPSON: ...Some very, very big ideas that it's ultimately kind of trying to wrap its head around. You know, it is a science-fiction movie. It is a psycho drama. You have to meet, like, something like a dozen characters and kind of get a sense of what makes them tick and kind of what brings them together. In order to do that, he places these, like, young, precocious children. And there's this boy. His thing is that he goes up to every adult he sees and says, what is your name and occupation? It is such...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...An exposition shortcut to just have, like, this little exposition boy...

RASCOE: (Laughter) Who's like...

THOMPSON: ...Walking around. Like...

RASCOE: ...Tell me about yourself. OK, got it.

THOMPSON: It might as well - like, he might as well just do, like, VH1 "Pop-Up Video"...


THOMPSON: ...Where, like, a little bubble comes up on screen and says, this person is a doctor.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: This person is an archeologist.

RIVERS: Totally.

THOMPSON: And so at the same time, the alternative to that is he spends half an hour establishing who these people are in a more kind of natural way. And it's like, I don't want to watch...


THOMPSON: ...That (laughter).

RIVERS: Nobody has time for - ain't...


RIVERS: ...Nobody have time for that.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) So...


THOMPSON: ...It is one of those movies where I found myself - I wasn't able to get, like, completely enveloped in what he was doing because I just kept thinking about it as it was happening.


THOMPSON: But I did kind of enjoy it.

RASCOE: I mean, the dialogue was, at times, so clunky. And we - I mean, I think we should talk about the fact that the - Mid-Sized Sedan...

RIVERS: He might have had 10 lines in the entire movie.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RASCOE: He had, like, no vocabulary. It was like, oh, oh.

RIVERS: He was like, oh.

RASCOE: I mean - yeah, and then, like, some curse words, but, like, you couldn't give him any more than that? (Laughter) Like, it was...

THOMPSON: I mean...


RASCOE: ...Just like...

THOMPSON: ...I kind of appreciated that he was just a certain kind of guy. Like, there is a certain kind of guy who, when placed in mortal peril, his reaction is, huh.


RASCOE: Oh. Oh. Oh, man. There were two Black people in that island, and they do have a funny moment. I think that the movie was really at its best when it wasn't taking itself so seriously.

RIVERS: That was the best laugh line for...

RASCOE: The best...

RIVERS: I don't want to...


RIVERS: ...Spoil it out.


RIVERS: But that's...


RIVERS: That was the best joke of the movie for me.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Where they - where the two Black people kind of had a moment. And...


RASCOE: ...Like, I like how when they weren't taking themselves seriously, that worked. And a lot of the dialogue is very much, like, telling you the premise early on. Like, this isn't a spoiler to say. Like, the main couple is arguing about, you focus too much on the future. You focus too much...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RASCOE: ...On the past. We need to be in the present. Like, that was said, like, immediately (laughter).

THOMPSON: Like, he might as well have extended his hand to underline...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...The point that he was making (laughter).

RASCOE: (Laughter) He was like, OK. I like it when you just spell it out (laughter).

RIVERS: Shyamalan is really good at just, like, putting the themes right into his character's, like, mouths...


RIVERS: ...Just, like...

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes, he is.

RIVERS: ...Having them speak what the movie is - what the movie's going to be about.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.

RIVERS: Ayesha, you're talking about the dialogue. A thing that always strikes me about Shyamalan and his - and his way with actors is something about the delivery is so off. When I first was, like, thinking about it, I thought, they're speaking as if they're at a table read, and they're seeing these words for the first time. And they're like, can we really - is this what you want us to say?

Now I'm thinking, you know, the tone intonation that they had, it reminded me of going back out at public gatherings now that the world has opened back up and, like, not knowing what to say. It's like, how do I be social? You know, how do I talk to people again? So when I'm saying things like, oh, what kind of vaccine did you get? People in the movie are like, you know, what's wrong with this beach? Or something's wrong...


RIVERS: ...With this beach. It's, like, the same tone of, like, I don't really know how to speak right now. But they're just not quite sure of the words that they're speaking.


THOMPSON: Yeah. OK. So we've talked about the script. How did you guys feel about some of the choices that he made with the camerawork?

RIVERS: See, Stephen, this is what brings me right in.

RASCOE: OK. This - (laughter).

RIVERS: This is what brings me back because, well, this - what he does with the camera, I'm just like, he's putting the camera there. And what's left out of the frame? And the way the camera creeps and the way it shifts perspective - like, that's what I love about Shyamalan. It's just like, he's going to do things with the camera you will not expect. The composition's going to throw you off. He'll be doing things for - there are people in the foreground and people in the background. And it's just - you want to just, like, investigate the frame. It, like - it draws you in.

THOMPSON: At one point, the camera is, like, locked on someone's - the top of someone's ear...

RASCOE: Yeah (laughter).

THOMPSON: ...Or something.

RASCOE: Yes (laughter).

THOMPSON: And it's like, why didn't you just pan back and show - like, I'm just sitting there like, what - oh, there's a lot of kind of intentional blurring.


THOMPSON: A lot - and some of that is obviously to create a disorienting effect. But some of it is like, that's the shot you got, huh?


RIVERS: Yeah. I love it. I - it's just like, let's do it. Let's try it. Why not?


RIVERS: Like, that's - that just could be that whole vibe. Like, I don't want you to sit comfortably. I want you to be questioning everything. Maybe he didn't want us to be questioning his filmmaking choices. Maybe that might be too far. But you can't sit comfortably with those kind of - with that...

RASCOE: No, no.

RIVERS: ...kind of stuff that he's doing.

THOMPSON: I mean, I guess that kind of brings me to that last question. And we've kind of alluded to it a little bit, but like, where are you guys on M. Night Shyamalan right now because there was a time - I remember very vividly, there was an M. Night Shyamalan movie that came out, and I saw the trailer for it. And it was, like, the introduction of this trailer. And they're like, this is happening, and this is happening, and this is happening, and everybody...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: And you could feel the audience kind of like, ooh, what's this? What's this? What's this? And then - from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan - and everybody laughed.


RASCOE: Oh, of course.

THOMPSON: And you could feel people, like, not taking it seriously.

RIVERS: No respect.

RASCOE: Yeah, yeah.

THOMPSON: There was no respect. And he's kind of righted the ship in some ways.


THOMPSON: I think, like, "Split" was a really big hit, and the "Glass" stuff kind of allowed him to create a little bit of, like, an M. Night Shyamalan cinematic universe that people could kind of get behind again. When people talk about this movie, when people talk about whether they want to see this movie - and as we've talked about this movie, we're not even necessarily just talking about, like, well, it's this kind of psychological horror thriller about people aging; we're like, it's the new M. Night Shyamalan movie. Are you excited about new M. Night Shyamalan movies? Like, did you approach this at face value, or did you approach it as an M. Night Shyamalan movie?

RASCOE: I approached it as an M. Night Shyamalan movie. And I do think he is such a known quantity that, for me, I can't separate it. Like, for me, I think it is like going to a Marvel movie or going to a specific - like, you expect certain things. And I feel like with M. Night Shyamalan, it's the same way. But for me, it works because I like that he has these weird takes and can put you in a weird world or a weird concept. And, you know, as long as it's not "The Village" - I did not lie. I went to go see that. That was bad. That was bad.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RIVERS: Oh, Ayesha. You got to watch that again, Ayesha.

RASCOE: That was bad. I saw it in the movies, and it was so bad (laughter).

RIVERS: You got to give that another try, Ayesha.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RASCOE: Oh, my gosh. I did not like "The Village."

RIVERS: "The Village" was unfairly maligned.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

RASCOE: But I do feel like he has righted the ship, and I will definitely go back to see more movies. And like I said, I recommend this one. I just think if you don't like his style of moviemaking, I don't think you can bring more people in. Like, "Split," I feel like you could probably have brought more people into it. This one, I feel like it feels very M. Night Shyamalan. For me, that's not a bad thing, but I think for other people, it might be.

RIVERS: I am starved for movies that are coming from, like, a personal vision, you know? And I think others might be as well. You know, they think, oh, this is a Disney thing. This is a Warner Media thing. You know, this is a Marvel product. I think people kind of like the idea of M. Night being back on top because they want to go to a movie where it's coming from a singular voice, a singular perspective. When you see an M. Night movie, this is an M. Night movie. You don't really get the sense that anybody tampered with it or tried to change anything because, like, who else would just be OK with some of the stuff that he does in this movie...


RIVERS: ...But M. Night Shyamalan? Like, this is an M. Night Shyamalan movie through and through. And I also think just the twist or the expectation of a twist in his films, it really does detract, I think, from his qualities as a filmmaker. I think he is good with conjuring dread or letting dread kind of seep into things. You know, he's good with taking, you know, domestic or kind of, like, everyday, mundane situations and kind of giving it a "Twilight Zone"-y vibe.

THOMPSON: Absolutely.

RIVERS: You can almost kind of hear Rod Serling do, like, the premise of "Old," like, in his voice. You kind of hear it.



RIVERS: I want him to keep making movies.


RIVERS: For good or for ill, just keep putting them out there because I think the more the culture is kind of taken over by these, like, big brands, the more singular and the more rare a kind of name brand like M. Night Shyamalan will be.

THOMPSON: I really agree with Mark, and I think it's a really good point to make that, like, there aren't as many movies that are made with a very specific director's stamp on them. Whether it's a big budget or not, he's still taking big swings with his ideas, and I do appreciate that. This was not a home run for me, but I'm glad I saw it.



RIVERS: First base. He got to make it to first.

THOMPSON: And so...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: So yeah, it's a base hit.

RIVERS: It's a base hit.

THOMPSON: And you got to hand it to him. It's hard to get a base hit. Movies are hard (laughter).

RIVERS: It's not a smooth path for M. Night Shyamalan.


THOMPSON: Yeah. Well, we want to know what you think about "Old" and about M. Night Shyamalan himself. It's a big, wild career. Find us on Facebook at or tweet us at @pchh. When we come back, it'll be time to talk about what's making us happy this week, so come right back.

Welcome back to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. It is time for our favorite segment of this week and every week - what is making us happy this week. Ayesha Rascoe, what is making you happy this week?

RASCOE: So this week, what is making me happy - and this is really appropriate for us because we had just been talking about M. Night Shyamalan and, like, twists and stuff. I watched this trilogy, the "Fear Street" trilogy...



RASCOE: ...And I came into it with no expectations. Of course, I read R.L. Stein and I read the "Fear Street" saga and "Goosebumps" and all of that 'cause I love horror, as everyone knows.


RASCOE: I feel like with the "Fear Street" trilogy - and it's three movies set in different time periods but all, like, one, you know, narrative, pretty much, that they're bringing to a conclusion - they didn't have to do a lot with it, but in many ways, they did elevate it. They were dealing with, basically, like, a slasher-type movie for the first one, like, "Scream"-type slasher movie. And then the second one is, like, a take on, like, a Jason-type camp slasher movie. And the last one's really, like, supernatural, demon possession - whatever. But they elevate it. They have this, you know, gay romance that anchors it between two teenage girls. And they really just took it in a different direction, whereas a lot of these movies can be very - obviously, they weren't feminist. And they were very the opposite of that. And this movie kind of took it into a more modern age, and I really enjoyed them. So I highly recommend "Fear Street" - all three movies. And it's hard to carry three movies, but they were all good. I watched all three of them with no hesitation, didn't take no breaks. I watched them.


RASCOE: So I recommend them. You know, that's what's making me happy this week.

THOMPSON: So that's "Fear Street" on Netflix. Thank you, Ayesha Rascoe.

Marc Rivers, what's making you happy this week?

RIVERS: So I don't know if y'all have had this problem but, you know, the pandemic really put a number on my reading abilities. It was hard for me to get through books. But I've been trying to get through "The Committed," which is Viet Thanh Nguyen's book. This is a sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Sympathizer." Came out a few years ago, and it's about this communist spy who had been - in the first one, he was a communist spy undercover in America, and in the second one, he's in France. And it's kind of this, like, really smart, just, like, political thriller but also a novel of ideas. The guy gets involved in, like, gangsters and, like, some the immigrant neighborhoods in France. But also has all these, like, really smart and just incisive things to say about, you know, colonialism and, like, the nature of violence.

He's referencing - there are lot of, like, you know, lofty references to, like, Sartre or Phonon or, you know, Camus. But he understands history to the point where he can, like make it entertaining, you know? And it's hard to make heavily intellectual or political ideas, like, entertaining, but he rides a fine line with that. And his protagonist is one of those guys where you - I just want to hear him riff on anything. You know, he's one of those kind of - you know, drop him in a scenario and you just want to hear his thoughts. It's a great voice, one of my favorite voices in, like - that I've read in a book lately. So, yeah, "The Committed" - if you haven't read it already, definitely give it a read. Good stuff.

THOMPSON: Wonderful. Thank you, Marc Rivers.

So I will spare you my thoughts on the Milwaukee Bucks and their NBA championship. That is making me very, very, very happy as a Wisconsinite.


THOMPSON: I did want to say a few words about the rapper Biz Markie, who died last week. And what a loss that was - a guy who brought such joy and oddness to his music in ways that were, in some ways, transformative for the music that followed him. You know, he had a hit in 1989 called "Just A Friend," which managed to mix that kind of playful storytelling kind of singsongy vibe with these choruses in which he sang very badly.

RIVERS: Very out of tune.

THOMPSON: Let's actually hear of a little bit of "Just A Friend."


BIZ MARKIE: (Singing) You, you got what I need. But you say he's just a friend, but you say he's just a friend. Oh, baby, you got what I need. But you say he's just a friend.

THOMPSON: I loved that song. It's so weird (laughter). And I wouldn't have expected that song to be enormously influential, but he kind of helped usher in and popularize the vulnerability of terrible singing...


THOMPSON: ...In ways that really kind of gave him a longer shelf life than you would have necessarily expected when he was coming up. And I will miss the joy of what he did. And I also really quickly wanted to throw out one more recommendation to take us out on. The rapper Gift of Gab died in June. Gift of Gab was half of a duo called Blackalicious and one of the most purely talented rappers you will ever find. There is a wonderful tribute to Gift of Gab on "Bullseye" with Jesse Thorn. Gift of Gab was a hero of Jesse's, and he talks about it more thoroughly than I will here, but I do want to take you out on a gorgeous piece of music - really, one of my favorite songs of the 21st century, a Blackalicious song from 2002 called "Make You Feel That Way."


BLACKALICIOUS: (Rapping) Make you feel that way, make you feel that way. Up and early for the hope of a brand-new day. See a homie you ain't seen since back in the day. Fresh haircut fitted with a fat-ass fade. End of work, we chilling on a Saturday. How you felt when you first heard the Daddy Kane, Rakim, KRS - hey, I had that tape. Cooling out with old girl on a fat-ass date. Find a hundred-dollar bill - wow, man, that's great. Get promoted....

THOMPSON: There's so much joy and perspective in that song. He was so wonderfully talented. He died so young. He was only 50. That's Gift of Gab. And really, check out those Blackalicious records if you haven't already. That is what is making me bittersweetly happy this week.

If you want links for what we recommended plus some more recommendations, subscribe to our newsletter at That brings us to the end of our show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me at @idislikestephen. You can follow Ayesha at @ayesharascoe. And you can follow Marc at @marcarivers - and that's Marc with a C. You can follow editor Jessica Reedy at @jessica_reedy, producer Candice Lim at @thecandicelim and producer Jared Gair at @jaredmgair - that's G-A-I-R. You can follow producer Mike Katzif at @mikekatzif - that's K-A-T-Z-I-F. Thanks to both of you for being here.

RASCOE: Thank you.

RIVERS: Thank you, Stephen.

THOMPSON: And thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We'll see you all right back here next week.


BLACKALICIOUS: (Rapping) Make you feel that way, make you feel that way, make you feel that way, make you feel that way, make you feel that way, make you feel that way, make you feel that way...

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