Split – 4 out of 5
After movies like The Village, The Happening, Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, Devil, and After Earth (and kinda The Visit), I fully expected that I would never see another decent-to-great movie from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. I absolutely loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and, despite the stupid weakness of the antagonists, I thought Signs was pretty creepy (Hmmm, maybe someday I’ll write a Rev. Ron’s Reality that tells the story of the one crazy alien who tells all the other aliens that they shouldn’t land on Earth because of how it’s literally covered in the one thing that can harm them but they don’t listen to him and go anyway). With every movie seemingly getting worse and worse, I pretty much gave up on the guy…and then I hear these good things about Split. On a whim, I decided to blind buy myself a copy—and that’s always a gamble. So, did this pay off? Is Shyamalan back in his old form? Um, kinda.
|She sees mentally broken people.|
Three girls; Marcia (Jessica Sula), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and the outcast Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), get kidnapped by a man and find themselves held hostage in a mysterious location. The man (James McAvoy) keeps appearing to them in different forms claiming to be different people and it is soon understood that the man suffers from multiple personalities. As the girls clamor to find a way to escape, the man’s doctor (Betty Buckley) strives to uncover the mystery of his mental illness. However, everyone soon learns what a threat the man truly is as he starts to proclaim that something far more dangerous is coming. Something he calls “The Beast.”
|Multiple personalities gives people the ability to climb walls--oh, no wait,|
that comes from being bitten by a radioactive spider.
For the most part, Split is a fairly decent movie. The story that is presented of the kidnapping is pretty straight forward and doesn’t really offer up too much different than what you would see in other films involving the same subject material (excluding, of course, the multiple personalities angle). Even the development of the victims and how the history of one of them ultimately plays a role in the current conflict is fairly average. I’m not saying these elements are bad, I’m just saying that there’s nothing overtly wrong with them. They are serviceable and perform their function far better than some of the worst films Shymalan has done. Essentially, the writer/director isn’t trying to overcomplicate the matters and isn’t trying to force an “Ah-Ha!” twist moment. In all honesty, this film should have got my average score of 3 out of 5 but one thing made this film incredibly memorable and stopped it from just being something to watch once and forget: James McAvoy’s performance.
|This was my favorite persona...because of the sass.|
I don’t want to sell the rest of the cast short because they are all doing a great job in their respective roles but McAvoy steals the damn show. This role could have easily been a disaster because if you play it too cartoonish then it will lose all legitimacy and ultimately have lessen the impact and the threat that this character has. However, McAvoy absolutely commands the character and seamlessly crafts each individual and unique personality with their own body language and delivery style. Seeing each personality on their own is impressive enough but when the moments come where you see him shift from one personality to the next is awe-inspiring. I always felt McAvoy was an excellent actor but this role proved that he was even greater than I originally believed and showcased a man with seemingly limitless talent.
|Limitless talent...at being a nerd! Look at those glasses. Wait, I wear glasses.|
Oh crap, I'm a nerd!
With every M. Night Shyamalan film, you gotta talk about the inevitable twist at the end. Ever since The Sixth Sense went on to become a pop cultural infamy, the filmmaker has become synonymous with twist endings. This element has been both a blessing and a curse as, when they are done right, he’s herald as a creative genius but, when they are done poorly, he’s mocked and ridiculed. Hell, even when he doesn’t do them (or they even feel warranted, for that matter), there’s a sense that you didn’t get your money’s worth. In Split, there is a twist at the end and while it’s not a huge twist, it’s definitely a satisfying one—although, there is a very forced element to it that feels a tad silly. After the announcement of his next film, you might already know what the twist is but, for the sake of Spoilers, I won’t give it away. All I will say is that it may not be the revelation at the end of The Sixth Sense but there is something undeniably satisfying about how this film culminates and the promises it offers up for the future.
|Did Shyamalan somehow get younger since the days of The Sixth Sense?|
Overall, the film Split is one of M. Night Shyamalan’s best in recent years but it does feel a tad generic at times. Additionally, the film does suffer from a lack of tension for long periods of the film—which is odd because the movie is literally about a kidnapping and that stuff is terrifying. However, this lack of atmosphere does get better as the film progresses. Hell, the entire film actually gets better as the story unfolds and we learn more about the mentally ill man. Like I previously stated, the biggest selling point this film offered was its ending and the absolutely astounding performance of McAvoy. While the movie does border on vilifying the mentally ill, McAvoy performance and the writing of the story stops it from feeling like having the antagonist have a mental disorder is out of laziness and more out of a way to create a unique threat. The final product results in a film that starts kinda mediocre but builds terrifically and contains a truly wondrous and masterful performance.