Director – Lucky McKee, Screenplay – Joel Veach, Producers – Cameron Burns, Aaron B. Koontz, Marc Senter & Ashleigh Snead, Photography – Alex Vendler, Music – Joe Kraemer, Visual Effects Supervisor – Pete Sussi, Visual Effects – ZP Studios (Supervisor – Zach Passero), Production Design – Lili Teplan. Production Company – Paper Street Pictures/Rubicon Entertainment/Title Media/Proam Studios/Upper East Side Productions.
Stephen Lang (Old Man), Marc Senter (Joe), Patch Darragh (Bible Salesman), Liana Wright-Mark (Genie)
An old man lives alone in a cabin in the remote areas of the Smoky Mountains. His solitary existence is unexpectedly interrupted by a knock at the door. This turns out to be Joe, a young man who says he has wandered off the trail and become lost. The old man is initially suspicious and holds a shotgun to Joe but gradually decides he is not a threat and lets him in. The old man makes coffee and food as it appears that a storm is coming in and Joe may have to stay the night. As the two talk, it appears that both hold secrets.
Director Lucky McKee first appeared as co-director of All Cheerleaders Die (2001). He gained attention soon after with the weirdly culty May (2002), followed by the horror film The Woods (2006) and couple of non-genre films Red (2008) and Blue Like You (2008) before making the controversial The Woman (2011). He subsequently co-directed a remake of All Cheerleaders Die (2013) and other works like Kindred Spirits (2019) and the Ding Dong episode of Tales of Halloween (2015), plus produced The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (2018) and Darlin’ (2019). Old Man is produced by low-budget director Aaron B. Koontz who made the horror films Camera Obscura (2017) and The Pale Door (2020) and has produced a number of other works of recent.
Old Man should not to be confused with The Old Man (2022- ), the tv series with Jeff Bridges as a retired CIA agent, which appeared around the same time. It is a film conceived with an enormous simplicity. There’s the archetypical Cabin the Woods setting. There are two actors – and a couple of others who very briefly appear in the flashback scenes. The two actors stay inside the single set of the cabin – we don’t even get any exterior scenes, apart from one brief shot outside the cabin as the big twist occurs.
Lucky McKee pits Stephen Lang and Marc Senter against one another with great tension. This starts right in with Marc Senter being greeted at the cabin door by Stephen Lang with a shotgun to the face and it taking some time before Lang relaxes his suspicions. Half the film consists of the two dancing around one another – the cranky suspicious Lang up against Senter who could not seem more a gauche, youthful innocent who merely claims that he has gotten lost. The tension weaves in and out of their stories, has the two catching each up in what they say or finding things suspicious.
The set-up reminds of great contained thrillers like Sleuth (1972) and Deathtrap (1982) – both based on plays, which essentially consist of two men in a single location and the psychological interplay and pull-the-carpet-out twists as they pare away at the secrets the other is hiding. If one is to look to genre comparisons, there would be the underrated The Caller (1987) with Madolyn Smith alone in a cabin being visited by Malcolm McDowall and the two navigating around a strange series of psychological games with one another.
However, just about the point when one of these other films would start getting twisty and pulling the carpet out from under us with a series of revelations of secrets, Old Man gets weird. Scriptwriter Joel Veach pulls a big M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist on us – see Conceptual Reversal Twists. [PLOT SPOILERS] Here it appears that Marc Senter is an Imaginary Companion in Stephen Lang’s head and represents his younger self. We see various aspects of the stories they have told play out as an allegory for Lang’s troubled past. To me, this was more of a “huh?” twist than one that felt like it held something striking and a big surprise.
Marc Senter is an actor who has done some excellent work in indie cinema – I loved his performance in The Lost (2005) – and it is a surprise seeing him in a much more straightforward role here. Stephen Lang has gained a strong presence in films like Avatar (2009) and Don’t Breathe (2016). This is a role of a lifetime for him – and one he seems perfectly suited to at age seventy. He gives it a grand airing, at turns cranky, paranoid and crafty, letting his wings stretch.