Old Man was directed by Lucky McKee (May, Kindred Spirits), written by Joel Veach and stars Stephen Lang (Eye See You, Braven) and Marc Senter (Tales of Halloween, Wicked Lake). It’s about a hiker who finds a cabin and a man within it whose threats and secrets must be escaped before chaos ensues.
The Plot: Evidently a fan of altering the same concept to view it from a different perspective, the broad strokes of Old Man’s plot are similar to McKee’s other cautionary tales but with minor changes to make this rework at least slightly novel.
In an isolated cabin amongst a mountainous wood, a titular old man’s (Lang) search for his dog is disrupted by Joe (Senter), a hiker who needed directions only to find the barrel of a shotgun on the other side of the door he knocked on. At a glance, it would seem like the feature has no plot and only seeks to observe the two characters, but some “introductory” questions for the young man surrounding his motive for being there create a primary mystery for the movie to follow.
Aside from that though, one would be right in concluding that there’s not much narrative in Veach’s script for the movie to work through besides the stories of the unnamed man’s past involving a Bible salesman. It’s all very slight, but as a low-key film that seeks largely to tell a minor story, Old Man gets the job done in an equally competent way without ever breaking convention or totally collapsing within it.
The Characters: Movies with small casts require the best performers to fill out the roles just as much as they require strong writing to carry a full-length feature. Old Man isn’t great with much aside from the title character, but there’s enough detailing to latch onto the other half of the cast.
Lang’s character gets all the glory here, with the backstory eventually filled in with clues as to why he acts the way he does, but without definitive answers until the end of the movie comes around. His time as a salesman of whatever could be sold wore on him while his wife did the same, causing his move to the middle of nowhere, sans wife with a dog in her place.
But even before that, he was raised with strictness; as he says – “like a spartan” – since there was no tolerance for uselessness. It’s not hard to see why his behaviour has so many oddities to it and why his trust levels are so low. The old man is above-averagely penned but it’s the acting force behind him that keeps the character consistently compelling.
Joe isn’t much of anything. From the time he knocks on the door and throughout the runtime, he only facilitates stories from his dicey host and questions about said stories when they’re finished. Development for the character is minimal as the script only permits him to be timid and cower for the duration of his stay, with the exception of his feelings of doubt about his life path. Completely understandable as it is, for the sake of the movie he should’ve sparred more with the man to create a greater collision of two forces. As it stands, Joe is just too passive to be memorable like the uneasy homeowner is.
Both characters are a bit one-note, but the note that’s replayed on behalf of Old Man’s title character is far more entertaining than the rather bland middle C that Joe receives. Both actors sell the writing with aplomb, but a lack of development hinders what could’ve been.
The Thrills: Old Man is moderately tense for almost its entirety, which is no small feat when the core idea has been presented for decades. However, it peaks way too early for its own good, plateauing by the midway point after shifting its focus to Joe instead of the man.
McKee’s opening minutes are dominated by the oddity of Lang’s character, who wanders around the small space of his cabin, seemingly going through several stages of grief over Rascal (his dog) meandering about in the woods like he always does, eventually threatening the absent dog with taxidermy when he gets home. These ramblings are only interrupted when Joe arrives, and he receives what probably would’ve been the same welcome wagon that Rascal would: a shotgun and an interrogation.
Old Man does a great job at setting the bar and maintaining it for the next 40 minutes, with the pair of men trading insinuations about the other with the tempo of their conversations constantly fluctuating between vague trust and complete paranoia. As the man conveys a story about luring the last person into his cabin only to turn on them (though not completely), the supposed past begins to replay in the present. Because the man is so hard to read, the sense of discomfort is palpable, but common ground is eventually found.
A tenuous decrease in their unease eventually makes way for halfway-decent dramatics, but this lacks the potential unreliability that the rest of the movie had. The man becomes docile and the movie tries to make up for it with mentions of the fantastical that, while daring on the part of Veach, doesn’t fit in with the rest of the feature. Still, it’s laudable that the filmmakers got as far as they did with such a well-worn basis, even if the final act is thoroughly unremarkable.
The Technics: Not ever leaving the cabin is an obvious intention of the filmmakers, as Old Man never focuses (literally) on anything outside, making all of the directorial and production decisions much more important. Some are less impressive than others, but the movie is always technically sound.
Because of the constraint on production, the designers and dressers had to get everything right. Lily Teplan (New Amsterdam, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair) and Jeremiah Wenutu (Stealing Cars, Enclosure) do commendable jobs in their respective tasks, with the setting having a lived-in look to it with all sorts of fixtures and props that make what could’ve just been a hollow shell something that connects with the leading character. It’s designed around fitting him and only him, with nothing walling off the toilet, very little to connect him to his past, and a slightly creaky look that could (if you’re reading into it) visualize his mental state.
McKee’s direction works well for Old Man, even if it’s not resoundingly special. Lots of long takes focused efforts on spaced-out characters, and occasional quirks like split diopter shots courtesy of cinematographer Alex Vendler (The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot, The Woman) add to the look and feel of the film, which frequently progresses like a filmed stage play. There’s no one standout aspect to the production, good or bad, which can be taken as a net positive since any major failings in a film this small would’ve been magnified to the extreme.
An average movie at the center of it all, Old Man thrives in its first half but significantly less so from that point onward. Senter and McKee do their jobs well, but this is Lang’s show, and he keeps the lights on and makes the old feel slightly less so.
RLJE Films has released The Old Man in select theatres as well as on VOD and Digital platforms. You can find a list of theatres on the film’s website. And if you want to see more films like this, FilmTagger has some suggestions.