Old Man, Look at Your Life. You’re a Lot Like Other Horror

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Old Man, Look at Your Life. You’re a Lot Like Other Horror

Lucky McKee returns to the wilderness once more for Old Man, a barebones single-location thriller with all the minimalism of a mid-pandemic production. McKee works off a script penned by Joel Veach that almost exclusively requires two actors on camera, except in one scene where the total rockets to three. It’s interesting enough as a character study, locking outdoorsmen inside a cabin while snow whips around outside, but struggles to justify running over 90 minutes with credits. McKee’s darker genre touches in titles like The Woman and All Cheerleaders Die are sorely missed in Old Man, which is too reliant on performances that outshine a story seen coming like an asteroid the size of Mars.

Stephen Lang stars as an aged woodland hermit who wakes to find his companion “Rascal” missing, and a knock on his door. The old man greets the hiker, Joe (Marc Senter), with his shotgun, inviting him inside to answer a few questions. Joe’s lost, but his trigger-ready savior is suspicious because there’s no reason for anyone to stumble upon his isolated place of residence. There’s nobody for miles, and yet Joe somehow finds the old man’s shack, which is appropriately peculiar—but tension fades, and it’s decided Joe will spend the night before trekking bright and early. That is, as long as the new acquaintances tell each other the truth.

Old Man is a chamber entrapment about quick wits, tall tales and believing thy neighbors. McKee’s tasked with prolonging the old man and Joe’s banter while keeping mysterious appearances, because there’s an inherent uneasiness to Joe’s arrival. Exterior cinematography makes it clear that nobody resides near the cabin in the woods, almost like the old man exists in a different universe. The film never outright ruins its suspicious activities or verbal tug-of-war as the old man reveals his sordid past while Joe cautiously charms his pajama-wearing host. Old Man plays like a conversational standoff that’s one dodgy response away from a communication breakdown, which countless other films have fumbled worse and tanked harder with similar means.

Lang and Senter work within an open-concept “studio” cabin shot well within its claustrophobic confines where the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom are all the same. Little oddities like the old man’s hand-crank electricity source, or the pisser being mere feet from the wood-burning stove—where gamey rabbit sizzles—sell the rustic touches, accentuating its atmospheric slow-burn. Lang’s all-in on playing the crackpot loner soaked in moonshine archetype, as he strains sentences like it’s laborious to even be awake, or erratically calls upon the pillars of backwoods justice. Senter’s there to look dazed and alarmed by the elder waving loaded weapons or laughing about abused door-to-door salesmen like there’s no telling whether Joe is trapped with a harmless kook or a dangerous psychopath. At least, that’s what Old Man hopes to achieve—doing so with mixed results.

McKee displays tenacity as an indie filmmaker who coaxes stellar performances and doesn’t feel hampered by lower budgets, yet Veach’s storytelling structure is easily identifiable. Lang might delight as a lonely Grizzly Adams type, and Senter holds his own as a listener with no escape, but Old Man is failed by an inability to remain indecipherable. As Joe follows the old man around his shed of a home, from the couch to the dinner table only a few steps away, it’s not difficult to clue into how Old Man will culminate. That’s a problem given how everything rides on third-act epiphanies, where Lang’s anecdotes graduate from foreshadowing to motivations, their blows softened when sensed an hour prior.

That’s what disappoints about Old Man—there is no real sting. McKee exhibits dependability behind the camera while his actors hold steady, it’s just that material seems better suited for a shorter format that spends way less time puttering around a shoebox shelter before getting to the grander horror climax. It’s a puzzle box containment thriller that should be way more my vibe, yet couldn’t be more middle-of-the-pack—and that’s that.

Director: Lucky McKee
Writer: Joel Veach
Starring: Stephen Lang, Marc Senter, Patch Darragh
Release Date: October 14, 2022

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.

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