Split

split-movie-poster

Release: Friday, January 20, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: M. Night Shyamalan

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

THIS REVIEW INCLUDES A MAJOR SPOILER

You just have to admire the child inside that M. Night Shyamalan has refused to abandon. His passion hasn’t always translated into quality entertainment but “going through the motions” isn’t a complaint you can lodge against the director. The fire keeps burning, even though the winds of critical and commercial failure keep trying to blow it out.

Amidst a climate of sudden optimism, it would seem Shyamalan has rediscovered his mojo, having delivered two consecutive products that have not become both the joke and the punchline (with last year’s The Visit garnering more positive reviews than his previous three efforts combined). Split, his most recent provocation which concerns three young women abducted by a man with multiple personalities, has people talking excitedly again.

The writer-director wastes precious little time in getting to work, introducing us to the three targets, led by Anya Taylor-Joy‘s moody Casey, before promptly throwing them down the rabbit hole. Her acquaintances, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) — and they are verifiably more acquaintances than friends, based on a few buzzwords we hear in the opening scene, like “mercy invitation,” “obligation” and “weirdo” — are here to offer contrast, particularly in the way the girls respond to threat. Casey stands out as both outcast and survivor, the prototypical Shyamalan protagonist.

Their abductor is played by James McAvoy, whose dramatic chops are put to the test in a performance that requires him to evoke the quirks and mannerisms of at least eight distinct personalities. He plays a mentally ill loner named Kevin Wendell Crumb who suffers from a real disorder called Dissociative Identity Disorder, which has actually rendered 23 different identities in total. They range from obsessive-compulsive disciplinarians to matronly caretakers to naive pre-teens. Given the complexities of such a role, this could be the Scot’s finest hour.

Because it would be unreasonable to expect the actor to portray all of the personalities living inside his character — not to mention confusing for the audience — only a handful of them are paraded in front of the terrified girls who all the while can’t agree on an escape plan. The well-adjusted reason that physical confrontation is inevitable while Casey thinks it’s better to be patient and use Kevin’s condition to their advantage, believing their best chance for survival lies in their ability to manipulate Hedwig, the nine-year-old boy.

Shyamalan ranks among the best in the biz when it comes to generating suspense and making audiences dread what lies around the next corner. Split is more of the same in that regard, but it also has the added bonus of McAvoy’s stunning performance and Taylor-Joy’s nearly-as-impressive portrayal of a troubled teen with a dark secret, one that slowly gets teased out throughout the course of the film. But the thing about Shyamalan is that his childlike enthusiasm for sharing his gift for storytelling often undermines his seriousness of purpose. He is often too clumsy, too ambitious, too obsessed with artifice. Some of his decisions have proven disastrous. Split is not a disaster. In fact, 90% of it manifests as a really interesting psychological thriller that stays well below the usual threshold of silliness.

But that 10% is what is always going to keep Shyamalan a few steps short of greatness. And it is frustrating, because he is quite literally less than a few steps short of delivering his most satisfying psycho-thriller since Unbreakable, now 17 years old. It’s what he does to wrap things up that proves his undoing. Again. The ending is a complete betrayal of the reality in which his new film is based. I’m not concerned about the science that Split manipulates for its own agenda. A) It’s par for the course for fictional works to take dramatic liberties. That’s why it’s called fiction. And B) Kevin’s psychologist (played by Betty Buckley) isn’t the key to unlocking the film’s secrets.

No, that’s why we get Bruce Willis. You have got to be kidding me. I’m now waiting the ultimate plot twist wherein I wake up from all of this madness.

aw-hedwig

2-5Recommendation: When compared to his most recent output, Split feels like a much more accomplished film. And for the most part it does impress, locking the audience inside a pressure cooker from which escape seems highly unlikely. Wonderfully atmospheric and well-performed, the guillotine that Shyamalan runs into at the end is just so regrettable. Two-thirds a return-to-form, in my book. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “The broken are the more evolved.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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32 thoughts on “Split

  1. That ending was a joke. I honestly had to look it up afterwards, as I had just invested my time in a movie, and the ‘twist’ has NOTHING to do with that movie at all? Screw that for a joke man, awful, awful, awful.

    I’m finally back in a writing mood so I’d be interested to hear what you think of my thoughts. Perhaps I take it a little too seriously, having worked with and known a few people with DID, but its depiction in this movie seems to be a) a really fucking lazy plot-device for a ‘writer/director’, but more importantly for me, b) most of the jokes are at the expense of his disorder.

    The people in the cinema I was at were literally laughing at how absurd the presentation of it was. When he walks in dressed like some kind of a vampire with a pommy voice, I was just thinking…. really? You are undermining the atmosphere generated by having such corny humour. Laughing is the best thing to totally destroy tension, which is certainly what happened here for me.

    But again, I almost certainly am taking it too seriously. Still won’t stop me from shitting all over this though 😛 I thought The Visit was crap too, just better than his recent garbage, and that movie also just took an existing issue – elderly dementia – as its driving force.

    Sorry for the rant man, I’m all over the place at the moment. Trying to catch up on about 20 different blogs

    • Yeah I think Split really has a tendency to divide audiences depending on how they see the mental illness aspect of it and how it is dealt with. I was a little off-put as well when the big reveal happened. But as someone reminded me, Split isn’t really about mental illness at all. It’s quite clearly a part of something bigger. I suppose that begs the question as to why Shyamalan had to make Hedgwig kind of a punchline. I was also annoyed by how much laughter was going on throughout. I’m pretty sure very little of what was happening to Kevin was intended to be funny.

      • yeah exactly, I don’t think it was intended to be funny, and there were only a few parts that personally made me laugh, but almost the entire audience constantly found it hilarious. I heard people openly mocking it, and I honestly couldn’t disagree, despite how much I hate rude people in a cinema. Several times I heard the guy behind me mutter the words “oh god…”.

        And yeah, its a part of something bigger for sure, but there is a stigma surrounding mental health and movies like this will do NOTHING to help that issue. The opposite in fact; people were laughing at this guy. If a writer picks mental health, in my opinion they should fucking treat it respect, or like I said before, think of an original idea!!!

  2. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I am going to. I am surprised by your low score. I didn’t read a lot of your review for fear of spoilers, but could it really be not good at all? I am a huge fan of “multiple personality disorder” movies and I am sure I will like this one just because it is on that topic. Nice post.

    • I thought the ending undid everything Shyamalan was building up for 90% of the movie, but a lot of people have responded positively to his decision as well. See what you think !

  3. Pingback: Month in Review: January ’17 | Thomas J

  4. Nice review man. My thoughts on it are similar. And I think it’s miles ahead of just about everything Shyamalan has directed since Signs, which isn’t saying much. McAvoy was real fun to watch. And for once, I actually liked the twist too.

    • Hey Khalid, thanks a lot man. McAvoy really impressed!

      Dunno if I am a fan of the way this ends, I really don’t at this point. What I will say though is that the temp on the thermometer has gone down a little, I’ve gone from like Seething Mad at Shyamalan for that twist to now, being just . . . kind of mildly annoyed. Because the more i think about it the more interesting an Unbreakable 2 sounds. And you kind of have to give the guy credit for making that decision. Pretty ballsy

    • Right you are man. McAvoy deserves kudos for keeping this rig from completely collapsing. He’s really, really good in it. I just hated the ending unfortunately. Could not buy that! 😉

      That said, he’s had worse twists.

      • And I think I would agree with your praise for the gonies he had in taking the film where it does. Really does come down to how one feels about the twist here. 🙂

  5. Man, I was hoping for more from this. Probably just because McAvoy. Have nothing to do with the director redeeming himself, but yeah. Looking forward to catching this at some stage though.

    • So here’s the deal: McAvoy is flat-out amazing. On a scale of 1-10 he’s operating at an 11 while the story pretty much goes to shit and falls apart at the end (in my book). Two thirds a really good movie!

    • thanks man, I definitely think this is a stronger Shyamalan film than what he’s done in the last 10 years but I still had some problems with it. Still an enjoyable one though,

  6. Yes! Nice review, Tom. 🙂 I think we seem to feel about the same. (Is your score out of 5? I’m still thinking of your shortbread, er, pie thing!) 😉 See what I mean about those last few seconds? SEE?!?! Lol. Felt so out of place. Threw me out of the movie (not that I was THAT into it anyway). But I seriously would have been 100% fine with that bit if he would’ve stuck it at the end or even mid credits. Felt cheap tacked onto the end of the actual film.

    • Thank you! And yes — that’s a great observation, I didn’t even think about the possibility of including that as like a ‘hidden’ scene or something. Since it seems Shyamalan is trying to piggy back on the success of the Avengers here, he might have taken this one step further and put a mid/post-credits scene, just like Marvel does. 😉

      The rating is indeed out of a possible 5 now. Yeah I need to get on and make a post explaining what all has changed. (Not really much to be honest besides the rating system.)

        • Haha! Perfect!

          Ugh, it was so annoying. I mean, it’s not like I was feeling there wasn’t going to be some sort of collapse at the end. Shyamalan kind of wrote himself into a hole, with the 24th personality emerging thing and all. I was really curious as to how he was going to make The Beast not seem completely ridiculous. All this said, Split is actually a pretty decent outing. It’s “a step above” his last few I think.

  7. I loved how in-depth you got into the world of the film. You summed it up rather nicely about why it doesn’t exactly work, something I didn’t catch. But I also knew that I was simply disappointed at the reveal.

    In my thought piece, I simply said that while I respect the execution and I do think this was pulled off pretty brilliantly, I don’t care that this is connected. I have no interest in seeing this expanded upon at all. I think it would have had more impact if it wasn’t all that long between release dates, but 17 years between features dulls most intrigue of an expanded universe.

    A good theater watch though, but I don’t know if I’ve got interest to revisit this again the next time up.

    • With that said, my thoughts on the movie were pretty positive, but I just don’t care about a Split 2/Unbreakable 3 or whatever, and I wish this could stand on its own. Unfortunately now, that reveal overshadows or comes close to overshadowing everything that was positive about this movie.

      • I think we are on the same page dude.

        90% of Split was fascinating, probably some of the most compelling stuff I’ve watched from Shyamalan since those “greats” from the turn of the century, but that 10% did quite a lot of damage. And you hit the nail on the head. The reveal at the end ultimately becomes the only thing people talk about when they talk about Split. The rest of the movie may as well have not even happened.

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