This article spoilers for Old.
M. Night Shyalaman’s latest, Old, sees a group of families at a luxury resort taken to a special beach which makes them age incredibly rapidly, to the point that their lives play out in entirety over hardly more than a day. It’s a fascinating and bleak premise inspired by the graphic novel Sandcastle by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Lévy, which doesn’t exactly sound like it’s in the mold of the queen of detective fiction, Agatha Christie.
But watching the movie, the similarities start to show through. Chatting with Den of Geek just ahead of the film’s cinema release, Shyamalan explains that his new priorities when it comes to moviemaking are to focus on contained stories.
“I’ve been making movies this way since The Visit : very contained movies that I fund,” the writer-director explains. “You would think that would rule out a generational story where I can go over many decades and tell a story. Well, look, I found a graphic novel that allowed me to tell a generational story and still be contained and be in a small movie. So I think I just realized that maybe that’s what this graphic novel allowed me to do, is keep my format, my very strict, strict format of these contained small movies, and yet I could do the biggest version of my movies.”
Keeping the characters stuck together in one location, despite the huge themes at play, leads to this echo of a drawing room mystery. It is something Shyamalan embraced and leant into.
“We would say we were referring to certain scenes, like the restaurant scene where you meet all the characters, like, ‘Alright, alright, [this is] the Agatha Christie restaurant scene. We’re going to meet everybody in this scene, all the characters are going to get set-up.’”
Yet there’s no Hercule Poirot to guide the audience through who the main players are. Instead six-year-old Trent and his new friend Idlib stand in for the detective, playing a game by asking all the guests, “What’s your name and occupation?” It’s exposition but done in an endearing way.
“[We have] this sense of a group of people that would normally not be together and we learn what their occupations are, and we learn who they are and that they have particular traits. And you’re wondering what’s going on and their relationship to each other, and they get picked off one by one,” Shyamalan explains.
“I think another aspect of it that I found interesting is maybe I was drawn to this because Agatha Christie does some dark things out in the open or in very, very beautiful locations. Something bad happens on a vacation or an architectural dig, or these different setups. That juxtaposition of death and horror against something beautiful is something I love in her work as well.” Certainly the remote beach location and the gorgeous weather evokes Christie adaptations such as Evil Under The Sun.
Unlike much Christie, though, Shyamalan wanted to use the set up to make sure his characters came from a range of backgrounds.
“It was such a great opportunity, and I said to my office, ‘Wow, I get to organically have people from different countries and that look different all together.’ It’s organic. It’s not because Hollywood said we need to have all of these different people in a room for X reason,” he enthuses. “The story naturally says that they wouldn’t even be from the same place. It’s so beautiful and organic. I loved that aspect of it. So I really went for it. I said, ‘Please don’t speak in an American accent. I want you to have your own accents. I want it to feel different.’ It’s fascinating. We’ll see as we open the movie how audiences are able to handle a summer big movie where all the characters have different accents. I’ve never seen it.”
Old is out now in cinemas