Old Man


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Old Man
"McKee’s camera, which moves around like a living presence and always seems to be on the brink of discovering something terrible, makes it impossible to relax for long."

The arrival of a new Lucky McKee film is always a reason to sit up and pay attention. This one begins with a gorgeous ink and watercolour painting of tree covered hills, which we zoom into over the course of the opening credits, until we enter the little wooden house hidden away amongst the trees and creep around the form of the old man (Stephen Lang), in his brick red onesie, lying on his bed. He abruptly sits up, alerted to the presence of an intruder, and we wonder for a moment if he is somehow aware of our own presence, watching him.

The old man is not used to receiving guests. He assumes that the presence he has sensed must be that of his dog, Rascal, and goes stumbling round the house in a fruitless search for him, accusing him of disloyalty. There is a penalty for leaving, he says, and that penalty is death. It’s a line which you may find your mind returning to during the course of what follows. When there is a knock at the door, the old man is shocked. Rifle at the ready, he opens it to find Joe (Marc Senter), a hiker who looks lost in every sense of the word. The conversation between these two men, each one wary of the other, will form the bulk of the film. If that sounds dull, it’s anything but.

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McKee’s camera, which moves around like a living presence and always seems to be on the brink of discovering something terrible, makes it impossible to relax for long. There’s a stuffed mountain lion head on the wall which seems to watch everything, and a large chest in the middle of the room which doubles a coffee table and may make viewers think of Rope. Joe Kraemer’s gloriously creepy, skirling music adds to the effect, and is well deployed, supporting the ebb and flow of tension. The wonderfully detailed set is convincing as somewhere a man might be able to manage for a long time with no outside contact, yet it’s also full of sly surprises.

The men are not continually at odds – or at least, not overtly. As rain thuds on the roof, they share glasses of throat-scorching hooch and the old man tells stories, reflecting on unsettling things he’s done in the past or on the mysteries of the surrounding landscape. Joe talks about his wife Eugenia – everybody calls her Genie – and his small ambitions. There’s a moment of tenderness when he articulates his more mundane fears and the old man provides the kind of patriarchal reassurance which comes from remembering what it was like to be in that position, long ago.

Nothing is what it seems here. When the ground shifts, it plunges us into a different kind of horror, and yet a familiar one. McKee’s typically tight direction and fondness for narrowing the viewer’s perspective makes a sense of inevitability the worst thing of all. What we don’t learn but might expect to is every bit as important as what we do. Both actors are fantastic, though Senter has to work hard, in the less showy role, to keep up with Lang at the top of his game. Joel Veach’s script gives them a lot to play with, ranging from gleeful cruelty to pathos to hopeless abjection. A textbook example of what can be achieved with minimal material resources, it’s brimming over with creativity, and for all its simplicity, it will haunt you.

Reviewed on: 31 May 2023
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When a lost hiker stumbles upon an erratic old man living in the woods, he could never have imagined the nightmare that awaits.
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Director: Lucky McKee

Writer: Joel Veach

Starring: Stephen Lang, Marc Senter, Patch Darragh, Liana Wright-Mark

Year: 2022

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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