Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, and must try and escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.
Director/Writer: M. Night Shyamalan; Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson
As many of you know, over the last decade or so I professed an overwhelming hatred for M. Night Shyamalan. Its not because I've always disliked him, in the beginning I actually thought he was the horror/thriller genres greatest champion of the 90's. 'The Sixth Sense' was clever and 'Unbreakable' introduced us to a new brooding superhero. He had proven that he was the master of the twist in one fell swoop and every horror fan loves a twist. Until they start to get too over the top and ridiculous that is, such as in the rest of the 'The' movies i.e. 'The Village' and 'The Happening' or even 'Signs'. That's when I really started to dislike him. Of course every few years he'd manage to pull me in again with what looked like a compelling film, take his Executive Producing role on 'The Devil' for example, turned out to be nothing more than the same old 'The' movie. When he brought us 'The Last Air Bender' I was sure he couldn't mess it up, it was a much loved already established story that promised tons of sequels. Well, we know how that went, sometimes as a writer director its better to not reinvent the entire story, just saying. Yep, when it comes to writer directors, auteurs if you will, Shyamalama-ding-dong had reached the level of Nicholas Cage for this film fan. So when it recently seemed like maybe he had been humbled by his failings and reinvented himself as a creative force, I was resistant to forgive for fear he'd dupe me again. 'The Visit' (yep, another 'The' film) was released and I didn't get immediately sucked in. I even managed to avoid it for quiet awhile before Joel convinced me to give it a try. So I finally did thinking any moment now Shyamalan is going to find a way to screw this up for me. Just need that ridiculous twist on upon the twist and... lets just say it was a very subtle and predictable twist that didn't, thankfully, ruin the story completely. I don't feel it was a great movie, but this isn't a review for 'The Visit', I've actually requested Joel handle that since I was afraid I'd go off on some kind of tirade, kind of like I just did... Anyway it wasn't a horrible movie, and when it ended I liked this more humble and subtle Shyamalan, and hoped he was here to stay. Especially when the trailers for SPLIT promised a truly demented film with a premise I found interesting. Plus, James McAvoy is brilliance incognito. So yeah, I got suckered again, and I'm here to report, was happy to be disapointed that it wasn't just another 'The' film, which it easily could have been.
The fact that SPLIT is good film can be attributed to more than just Shyamalan's writing and direction. In fact I give a lot of credit to the ensemble. James McAvoy is amazing as the personalities that rise to the surface and Anya Taylor-Joy is the quintessential, less than perfect, final girl. McAvoy is brilliant, I cannot stress that enough. You can see every personality change as it happens just by his facial features, and he can do it instantly. Even when the one personality is impersonating another. Shyamalan is the king of holding tension, so every scene has strong pregnant moments of silence. Though its not always needed, its a technique that works by holding the watcher in limbo until the next reveal. SPLIT does have a lot of reveals, from the moment of abduction to the appearance of the 24th personality. None of these are twists though. Which is new skill for Shyamalan who previously presented every reveal as a shocking twist. In SPLIT we get discovery time rather than teases that just provide more questions before the ridiculous twist. I wonder how much of this subdued story telling is thanks to producer Jason Blum. No matter what it promises a better Shyamalan. There's plenty of humor embedded in the film as well as awkward moments are turned comical like in the scene when the 9 year old boy personality dances for the protagonist.
Back to the story, SPLIT is reinvention of 'Sybil', as multiple personalities serve as a defense for a tormented Kevin. Betty Buckley's Psychologist has theorized that alternate personalities can have traits the host does not, therefore allowing physical changes to the host. One example that is given is that a host that is blind could have a personality that can see. An interesting concept that continues to grow in the film while we wait for the final personality, the beast, to arrive in Kevin and wonder what physical changes it will bring. This also, usually, where Shyamalan adds a ridiculous factor, where we think it might be aliens but its really the trees, or its really a 17th century commune somehow isolated within a big modern city. Fortunately he sticks to the story and continues to grow this new mythology as we prepare for the arrival of the beast who needs these girls to feed on when he arrives. Again, McAvoy sells it in a blink of an eye.
HERE THERE MAY BE SPOILERS: In the end I must admit I'm liking the maturity of Shyamalan as a storyteller. The true twist to SPLIT has absolutely nothing to do with the story itself but rather the ties it has within a Shyamalan universe teased at the end of the film. SPLIT's antagonist was originally conceived as a character for one of Shyamalan's first films but was scrapped in the interest of more linear storytelling. But now that he's been introduced in his own narrative I truly hope to see that franchise grow into a trilogy and strong new superhero universe.
Currently in theaters! SPLIT delves pretty deeply into mental illness and physical abuse so keep your mind open!
'til next we bleed,