Stephen Lang plays a character simply credited as Old Man in the fittingly titled new psychological horror-ish thriller “Old Man”. Now for the sake of clarity, this isn’t the same old man he plays in the two “Don’t Breathe” movies although certain similarities are impossible to miss. Instead, here he plays an old man living in seclusion somewhere deep in the wilds of the Smokey Mountains.
“Old Man” is a wily two-hander led by Lang and Marc Senter. Directed by Lucky McKee from a script by Joel Veach, the movie does a nice job sucking you into its crude, one-location setting. At least for a while. Unfortunately it begins to lose its grip around the halfway mark, struggling to maintain the tension it builds so well early on. But Lang and Senter keep it afloat. They’re nice fits for Veach’s off-kilter story, and McKee smartly leans on his two actors and their weird yet fascinating chemistry.
Its no-frills setup begins with the camera panning around and snaking through a rustic wood cabin, stopping on an old man (Lang) in red longjohns asleep on a bed. He suddenly snaps awake as if jolted from a nightmare. He gathers himself (sort of) and gets up, his bones creaking as much as the tired bed springs and planked flooring. He starts rambling incoherently, calling for his dog Rascal who has apparently run off. “Nobody leaves me”, he grumbles with a tinge of anger in his voice.
Suddenly there’s a knock on his door. Startled, the old man grabs his double-barrel shotgun and opens it to find a polite yet nervous young man named Joe (Senter). The old man pulls him inside, sticking his gun to the terrified young man’s throat. What’s this guy doing at his cabin in the middle of nowhere? “My wife, she didn’t send you out here, did she?”, asks the suspicious old-timer, hinting at a backstory which will come more into focus a bit later.
Joe explains he got lost in the woods. He saw the smoke from the old man’s chimney so he came to the cabin for help. Should the old man believe his uninvited guest’s story? Should Joe be scared of the old man with gun? Nearly the entire movie is spent sorting these questions out as the unhinged codger and his jittery visitor simply talk – tense and genuinely frightening at first; deeper and more personal later. Yet we know from the start that things aren’t as they seem. It comes down to patiently waiting for McKee to reveal his hand.
As for that reveal, it’s fine. Nothing as twisted and gnarly as I hoped for (the film would had benefited from a final act burst of gonzo nuttiness). Instead it goes in another direction, adding a twist that’s reasonably clever but that won’t blow anyone’s socks off. Still, “Old Man” squeezes a lot out of its meager budget and single setting. And there are stretches where you’re so absorbed in the dialogue and the two central performances that the film’s constraints all but vanish. And while it sputters in the second half, it keeps your attention throughout – a testament to the talent both in front of and behind the camera. “Old Man” is out now in select theaters.