I wasn’t going to do a review, but I HAD to discuss the craziness that was the new thriller, SPLIT.
I WILL get into spoilers, but I will let you know when they’re coming and how to skip over them. I promise.
The debate on when M Night Shyamalan fell off the rails will be a battle forever waged; some say the last great movie was Unbreakable, some say The Village, and some might even say that The Sixth Sense was his only good film. But I’m here to tell all of you who have given up on him, to watch Split and openly discuss this with your friends.
Look, I’ve seen every film of M Night’s except for his debut, Wide Awake. I’ve been dragged through the mud time and time again with the likes of Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, and After Earth so I know how you feel. I get it. The question you keep asking yourself is valid: “How is he still allowed to make movies?!”
If you’ve seen his previous effort, The Visit, you may already have a differing opinion on him, or you may still think that while that movie was “alright,” he’ll eventually mess up again. Now, I know The Visit wasn’t perfect, and hell, some even hate the film, but I must implore you to understand that Split is more like The Sixth Sense in execution, rather than The Visit.
Split is best enjoyed for its performances. James McAvoy has never been better; you have to be an excellent actor to portray the 23 different personalities of a man named Kevin and be able to swap between them effortlessly, right?
Not only does he shine in his multiple roles, but the three young captives, led by The Witch’s brilliant Anna Taylor-Joy, play very well the roles in which they were cast (to varying degree); Taylor-Joy being the standout. Clearly, the other two girls were not supposed to be the center of the film, and they can certainly be grating compared to the wide-eyed reserve of Taylor-Joy’s Casey.
Another wonderful performance is that of the psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher, played by the magnanimous Betty Buckley. She brings a much-needed realism to the psychotic breaks that occur within Kevin’s mind.
The cinematography is superb, often invoking the eager potential of Hitchcock’s best (as much as the formerly smug M. Night strived so desperately in which to achieve; but surely much of the credit must go to the cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis.
Yes, if you too have seen Shyamalan’s previous… “Oeuvre,” the gears within M Night’s scriptwriting mind may reveal themselves, but it’s still a marvel to watch the film unfold, and to see how he ties his characters and their history into the thematic elements of the story. But now… I must say SPOILERS because the anticipation within my head has reached critical mass. So if you want to skip them, scroll down until you see SPOILERS OVER.
First, they never show all 23 personalities, which is a shame. In total, they feature 8 of them, of which only four are prominent.
I knew there was a twist that bothered some, and I actively sought it out during the entire run of the film, and as each layer of the onion was removed, I met it with fascination and confusion. Why was this such a big deal? Then the film continued. We saw Casey hunting with her Dad and Uncle, and the second time I saw the Uncle, I knew. He was molesting her. Jesus, talk about the horrors that instill guttural reactions from the audience.
When they spoke of The Beast, I had feared that he would turn into this disgusting creature as “The Horde” described it; twice the size, longer fingers, etc. And I remember Hedwig’s illustrations of a large black beast devouring tiny people, and imagined M. Night pulling a reverse twist reveal of The Village, where SPOILERS Kevin really changed into a beast, rather than humans wearing beast costumes.
It’s good that I don’t write these kinds of films, because my mind goes to some far off places, and most of them suck.
I surmise one of the potential issues audiences had with the ending is that Kevin actually climbs walls with his bare hands like described. Or that he was all-powerful. I think M. Night is smarter than he used to be. He throws a McGuffin at the audience, offering a potential twist. For example, in The Visit, they mentioned how Aliens could be the ones behind it, but it wasn’t even close.
And here in Split, the characters hypothesis that the supernatural could derive from these advanced gifts displayed by “The Horde,” and I could see that being a cool side story. The creatures of the night, such as Lycanthropes are really people who have achieved a higher level of brain function– A true “Mind Over Matter.”
So maybe when The Beast climbed walls some people were mad. Then I kept thinking, and thought maybe the twist is with Casey; maybe she had this split personality as well. Or maybe she killed her Uncle, and she was on the run from the law or something. Again, my mind tends to throw ideas at the wall.
And when it was revealed that they were in the Philadelphia Zoo, oh so maybe that’s why people were upset? No, I think the detractors’ issue with the film, is that it seemingly addresses a long-promised event. Much like an openly discussed Kill Bill Volume 3, I believe that this is the infamous Second Act to the movie Unbreakable.
At the very end of the film, Bruce Willis’ character, David Dunn, is revealed in a diner, answering a nearby stranger’s question, “Didn’t they give a guy in a wheelchair they put away fifteen years ago a name like that?” TO which he responds, “Mr. Glass.” He was of course referring to his nemesis played by Samuel L. Jackson in 2001’s Unbreakable.
Now, M Night had contemplated making Unbreakable into a trilogy, with each film its own act. Unbreakable was Act One. Bruce Willis’ David discovers his hidden powers and their potential and decides to finally use them for good. It was the heartless Mr. Glass that forced him out of hiding, by causing massive crash after massive crash in order to find his parallel: a super-powered, near invincible “hero” like the ones in his escapist comic books.
Act Two is “The Hoard” surfacing in the world, and now it’s up to Bruce Willis to stop him in the Final Confrontational Act: Earthquake. Or something like that.
One more thing I’ll mention is the last shot of Casey is one of acceptance; she’s finally ready to spill the beans about her abusive parental guardian, and the look in her teary eyes as she stares at the cop is the classic “sign of trouble” look.
But, HOLY SHIT DO I LOVE CROSSOVERS, and this is a seventeen year long wait, and it was great going in not knowing a damn thing! That’s why I attempt to give you that option as well, which is why Spoilers are over!
In closing, Split is a refreshing return to form for Shyamalan, and while it’s not perfect, I hope that he’s able to make more films like this in the future. I was actually glued to the screen, blissfully unaware of the world around me, which made me enjoy the film more.
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