In the words of LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.” Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan returns in fine form with his latest topsy-turvy, twisty, thriller “Old” that takes place in a tropical paradise where sunburn is the least of your problems. Based on the graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, a family vacation turns into a nightmare after they discover a secluded beach where time moves rapidly. Like an episode of “The Twilight Zone” crossed with “Gilligan’s Island,” the castaways scramble to find a way out while battling the aging process and each other.

Gael García Bernal (“Mozart in the Jungle”) and Vicky Krieps (“Phantom Thread”) play parental units Guy and Prisca Capa who along with their 11-year-old daughter Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and six-year-old son Trent (Nolan River) have just arrived at an all-inclusive tropical resort ready to get their vacay on. With adult beverages in hand for mom and dad and a Willy-Wonka-style buffet for the kids, the family settles in after being greeted by the resort’s version of Mr. Roarke (Gustaf Hammarsten) and his assistant Madrid (Francesca Eastwood) who never utters the line, “The Plane! The Plane!”

All is not well in Guy and Prisca’s marriage so maybe the trip is a last resort for reconciliation. Everything seems to be going well, Maddox is pleased by the number of boys her age at the resort, Trent has already made friends, and the family just received a special invitation from the manager to spend a day at the resort’s private secluded beach, which is off-limits to most guests on the island.

They arrive by shuttle at the hidden beach which is secured by a locked gate and fence that surrounds the area. One would get the impression that they are entering Area 51. The Capa family is joined by other VIPs, including Dr. Charles (Rufus Sewell), his much younger trophy wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee), six-year-old daughter Kara (Kylie Begley), and his elderly mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant). Joining the two families are married couple Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and while there is no movie star accompanying the soon-to-be castaways, there is a rapper who’s known as Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre).

The pawns are in place and Shyamalan wastes no time heightening the creep factor with a mysterious dead body and no cell phone signals. Soon Trent and Maddox are complaining that their swimsuits are too tight, and the adults start noticing changes as well. Dr. Charles, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is having trouble with his memory, wrinkles begin showing up on everyone and after spending a few hours playing Maddox and Trent return unrecognizable as the young kids have aged into adolescents now played by Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff.

Dread quickly morphs into paranoia causing tension among the group which results in some interesting effects as wounds heal quickly and an impromptu surgery is performed on the beach. Time is moving rapidly as 30-minutes on the beach equals two days of life. In just eight hours one would age 32 years, bad news for the adults. Escape is not an option as demonstrated in the film and with no professor in the bunch or a coconut tree in sight, it’s looking gloomy for the group.

After wrapping up the “Eastrail 177 Trilogy” with 2019’s noble attempt “Glass,” which I enjoyed more than most critics, Shyamalan delivers a suspenseful thriller worthy of his best work. While it may not be on the level of “Signs” or “The Sixth Sense,” it doesn’t matter. “Old” is a captivating thriller that fills the viewer with foreboding in the directors’ signature style.

(3 stars)

Now showing in theaters

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Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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