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The scariest beach movie since 'Jaws'? First reactions to M. Night Shyamalan's new horror film 'Old'

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Jul 20, 2021, 11:14 AM EDT

The clock is ticking down to the wide theatrical release of M. Night Shyamalan's next movie: Old. The movie enjoyed its world premiere in Los Angeles on Monday evening, and those in attendance seemed to be scared out of their swim trunks. In fact, it might just be one of the most spine-tingling beachside summer releases since Steven Spielberg made audiences afraid to go in the water 46 years ago.

"I had not been scared of the beach since Jaws, and now #OldTheMovie had me in full suspense and stress mode the whole time," tweeted film critic Fico Cangiano. "Really enjoyed its premise and themes. Be ready to spend an unsettling, bonkers vacation in paradise. Def check it out."

Inspired by the 2013 French graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, Old is Shyamalan's first-ever project not to be based on a concept he created himself.

Naturally, though, he adapted the comic into the screenplay, which follows several families who find themselves trapped on a beach where time moves at an accelerated rate. What begins as a relaxing day by the sea turns into a waking nightmare as the group tries to solve the mystery of what's going on before they all shrivel up and die.

"M. Night Shyamalan gets so creative with Old," wrote CinemaBlend's Managing Director, Sean O'Connell. "His camera work is exhilarating, with some of the most bold and aggressive filmmaking techniques I’ve seen from him. The visuals are a little stronger than the story, but damn, Thomasin McKenzie continues to amaze."

"When #OldMovie gets going, it flies like a bat out of hell," added Mike Reyes, a CinemaBlend staff writer. "While the film gets off to a slow, clunky start, it eventually becomes a body horror that somehow successfully meshes with emotional family drama. Absolute summer fun from M. Night Shyamalan."

Gizmodo and i09's Germain Lussier described the film as "the best movie Night has made since Unbreakable." They continued: "It’s an intense, unrelenting thriller made with sadistic glee and surprising emotion. It’s hard to watch and I loved every second of it."

IGN's Robert Daniels concludes that the film "is just as profound as any thriller Shyamalan has done. It’s a film that probably won’t merit repeated viewings, but that first one is a thought-provoking meditation on what it means to be alive that brings up dark, buried feelings like the water that kisses the sand." Daniels also notes that the screenplay features "what is quite possibly the worst and least rhythmically believable dialogue of M. Night Shyamalan’s career."

"Old, like most Shyamalan movies, has a catchy hook along with some elegant filmmaking gambits," writes Owen Gleiberman in his review for Variety. "But instead of developing his premise in an insidious and powerful way, the writer-director just keeps throwing a lot of things at you ...  It has a compelling off-kilter visual style, with the camera hinting at things just out of sight, but the characters keep explaining who they are in cliché psychotherapeutic soundbites; at times, the film threatens to turn the Twilight Zone version of a 12-step meeting."

The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore also makes a Twilight Zone reference, writing:

"Rod Serling-like ironies aside, the movie does finally deliver satisfying answers to a question or two we’d given up hope of answering. But doing so requires a return to a familiar genre mode after a tranquil sequence where things might’ve ended, almost happily, in a very different mood. We’re all stuck together on a rock, aging too quickly, coping with irrational neighbors. Maybe we should just watch the waves and enjoy the company of loved ones for as long as we have left?"

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian bestowed Old with a glowing five-star review, stating that while the ending was a little too neat for his liking, he still enjoyed the ride immensely. "I was on the edge of my seat, not knowing whether to flinch or laugh, though I did both. I loved the way the kids grew up while remaining trapped in a child’s bafflement and resentment. Time raced by while I was watching it."

IndieWire's David Ehrlich wasn't as swayed, ultimately grading the movie with a C+. 

"The result is a silly, well-acted piece of schlock that offers a decent time at the movies instead of the awful one that it promised us," reads their review. "And while there’s obviously some fun to be had in a film where The Neon Demon star Abbey Lee plays a trophy wife who goes full Kuroneko (complete with a billowing hooded kimono) on a bunch of teens because she gets a few wrinkles, Shyamalan’s latest — like virtually everyone in it — gets old fast."

Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Eliza Scanlen, Aaron Pierre, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliott, Gustaf Hammarsten, Alexa Swinton, Kathleen Chalfant, Francesca Eastwood, and Nolan River co-star.

Old arrives in theaters everywhere this Friday, July 23.

(Universal Pictures & SYFY WIRE are both owned by NBCUniversal)