Old Man - New Release Review
Director: Lucky McKee
Starring: Stephen Land, Marc Senter, Patch Darragh, Liana Wright-Mark
Written by: Joel Veach
Produced by: Cameron Burns, Ashley Snead, Marc Senter
Cinematography by: Alex Vendler
Original Score by: Joe Kraemer
When a lost hiker stumbles upon an erratic old man living in the woods, he could never have imagined the nightmare that awaits.
When it comes to a film set in a single location, not many genres do it better than horror. It provides the perfect backdrop to turn the screw with audiences by smothering them with tension and paranoia. It relies heavily on a lot of factors (mainly strong performances and scripts) to maximise its effectiveness in order to hold the audience's attention. In the wake of the pandemic many horror films have resorted to these types of setups either out of necessity or the story they were trying to tell demanded it. The best to do this was the séance over Zoom hit 'Host' whose success was largely down to it being released at the right time, as it tapped into our fears of the early days of lockdowns in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Now in the tail end of the pandemic we see the release of 'Old Man' which deals with similar themes but given how much has changed and how attitudes have changed, how impactful can it be?
Opening with an illustration of a cabin hidden in the woods, the film from the get go creates a sense of intrigue before pulling you inside it to introduce us to the titular Old Man (Stephen Lang) who wakes up disoriented and in search of his dog before a stranger called Joe (Marc Senter) knocks on his door. From here onwards, director Lucky McKee continues with the intrigue which slowly morphs into unease that is maintained throughout the film. In utilising slow camera pans and lingering shots the tension is heightened as you ponder the motives of the main characters as they suss each other out with their differing forms of interrogation. A lot of this is supported by some excellent sound design as the wisp of wind seeping through the cabin and the crackle of the stove's fire weaves its way around the tense atmosphere. On top of this Joe Kraemer's haunting score that creeps its way in and out of the film is highly effective.
When it comes to a mainly one location two hander, the script ranks highly in being the most important aspect of the film. With 'Old Man' it is at best a mixed bag. At its heart it delves into themes relating to regret and faith but the dialogue surrounding these themes feels so ordinary and mundane that they don't really land and feel too obvious. Having said that, McKee's work behind the camera tries to make the most out of this by keeping the audience on their toes in teasing a big finale. It is one of too few things that make the conversations between Joe and the Old Man feel like they are worthwhile but you can't help but at times they are an experience akin to eavesdropping on a conversation between two regulars at your local after they've had more than a few.
As for the characters themselves Stephen Lang is terrific as the eccentric Old Man. He goes through a range of emotions that makes his character completely unpredictable but is all the more enthralling because of it. At the start he comes across as confused and dishevelled wandering around his rustic cabin in a red union suit before snarling at Joe when he first meets him but we see a softer side to his character that is undercut by a nasty comment. Ultimately what makes Lang's performance as good as it is, is how he conveys a pathetic undercurrent throughout his ever-changing performance that grounds it through some of the more over the top moments.
Whilst Lang's grandiose performance keeps the audience on their toes Marc Senter's is every bit as good as the mild mannered stranger, Joe. Instead of swinging for the fences like Lang he is much more subtle and subdued in his performance as someone who is pulled into the Old Man's world and is trying his best to get out of it. He evokes a lot of empathy through his softly spoken manner and works really well as a counter to Lang.
The whole time you are watching the film you feel and hope that it is building to some kind of big twist or revelation that will make the slow burn approach worthwhile but unfortunately it never really comes. It is a let down because of how predictable it is. Despite seeing where things are heading early on in the film you hope that it is just a piece of misdirection to distract from something more shocking and impactful. Instead the film settles on something that is akin to a stretched out and underwritten episode of 'Inside Number 9'.
The conversations between Joe and the Old Man feel like they have been for nothing, ultimately making the film feel hollow. It is a great shame considering the excellent performances and technical work behind the camera but a punch up of the script's dialogue and a different direction in the final act might have led to something special.
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- Joseph McElroy
'Old Man' is available on Digital Download on 5th June