Who’d have thought that M. Night Shyamalan would be crawling his way out of the grave he dug himself for the last decade or so? For those of you that have been living under a rock, Shyamalan was the director and writer of one of the most celebrated horror-thrillers of all time, THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). What does that mean you may ask? Simply put, it was Shyamalan’s first feature-length film and it was such a huge hit with critics and movie-goers alike that he was thought to be a filmmaker that would change the face of cinema. Then UNBREAKABLE (2000) came out a year later and was… mixed to say the least. Some people think it’s great, others think it was a sign that maybe Shyamalan was a one trick pony. Then in 2002, we were given SIGNS. Personally I loved this film, and it seems to be pretty popular with the masses as well. But there is a small group of people that don’t like it and when intelligently pointing out the flaws, it’s hard to deny the film’s true colors: it wasn’t very good. From that point on, the downfall of Shyamalan was only getting faster and harder. THE VILLAGE (2004), THE LADY IN THE WATER (2006), THE HAPPENING (2008), all culminating into penultimate failure of his career, THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010). His movies were only getting worse and worse and he became the butt of every film joke you could make.
But then a surprise hit appeared in the shape of 2015’s THE VISIT. If you were anything like me, that movie looked like it would be another bad Shyamalan film, but maybe with a little more self-awareness; that maybe he’d embraced his horrible writing and decided to make fun of himself. Though, to be honest, the movie was actually a pretty solid flick to most. On a personal level, I thought it was just okay, but in rating a Shyamalan picture, “okay” is probably code for “fantastic.” Some even declared the film his comeback movie. Again, I think a trend needs to happen in order for conclusions to be reached, and one movie that was just okay doesn’t mean he’s on a comeback.
Which now brings us to his latest venture. It looks like it’s a story about a man with multiple personalities kidnaps three teen girls and holds them hostage somewhere as their escape attempts are thwarted and aided by the man’s many personalities. I still think it looks like a silly film, but as I have yet to see it, it’s best if I don’t judge it outright. But early ratings seem to give it high praise. IMDb has it at an impressive 7.5/10 (as of 1/13/2017), and RottenTomatoes has it at a 78% (as of 1/13/2017), but all of that will change in a few weeks, so we’ll see how it all turns out.
Let’s talk about the cast. First up, we have the ever talented James McAvoy. Say what you want about WANTED (2008), this movie put him on the map. So much so that it landed him the coveted roll of young Charles Xavier in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), which solidified his popularity with most audiences, especially his turn in its sequel and arguably the best X-Men movie ever made, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014). Despite X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016) not being the best of the franchise, he himself still held up pretty well. So it’s safe to assume that even if the movie isn’t great, he always will be. He’s charismatic and knows how to act, I just hope Shyamalan doesn’t forget that and sap all his talent out in this flick because… damn, he doesn’t look like he’s going to be good in it. Next up, the rising star of Anya Taylor-Joy. 2016 was a pretty big year for this young lady, having been in the popular horror film, THE WITCH and MORGAN. THE WITCH was one of the best horror films that came out that year and Taylor-Joy knocked it out of the park. MORGAN was… less than stellar, to say the least. Not the worst movie ever made, by any means, but it was definitely knock off of a lot of other movies that were better. This is obviously no fault of Taylor-Joy, young actors needs to work and get their names out there and don’t always have the luxury of choosing their films lest they fade from relevance. And again, Taylor-Joy wasn’t bad, it was just the movie that should have been better. Despite having been in only so many movies, she’s got mad talent and I’m hoping to see her get crazy famous in the future. Finally, Haley Lu Richardson. In the blink of an eye, for me, she became one of the most hated things that came out of 2016. Why? THE BRONZE, that’s why. Though, it’s hard to blame Richardson for that because, once again, young actors need work, and despite having a much longer list of credits to her name, it doesn’t have a lot of titles that many may recognize and THE BRONZE felt like it could potentially hurt Richardson’s career horrible. Thank the big man upstairs for THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016), though, as she bounced back wonderfully in that. While mostly indifferent to her herself, I still see her talent and as long as the rest of Hollywood is merciful enough to keep her away from more horrible films, I think she’ll do alright and I’ll be open to more of her work.
Now for behind the scenes. Obviously, writing and directing is Shyamalan. I’ve ranted enough about him, so let’s move on. Composing the music is West Dylan Thordson, known for JOY (2015). Finally, the cinematographer is Mike Gioulakis, known for IT FOLLOWS (2014).
Overall, despite initial high praise, it still looks like a silly movie. I’m not completely sold on it, but I’ve been Popstar’d before. So maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
This is my honest opinion of M. Night Shyamalan’s SPLIT.
Cassidy (Anya Taylor-Joy), a quiet and non-social teenager, has been invited to Claire’s birthday party, though not entirely by choice. As the party closes and they’re about to leave, Claire’s parents offer Cassidy a ride home. But before they get going, a strange man with multiple personalities (James McAvoy) kidnaps the two and Claire’s friend Marcia (Jessica Sula), and locks them away in a room where they meet the other personalities. Some of them kinder than others. But the longer they stay around him, the more they realize that a new ominous personality is coming that could very well spell disaster on more than a few levels.
I know the critics are going absolutely nuts for this movie, but I have to voice my disagreement and say that it’s… meh. Not bad, but not nearly as good as the critics are making it out to be.
I think it’s best to mention the controversy that’s been circulating around the film. The film’s been coming under fire for it’s harmful and backward representation of people with multiple personality disorder… er, dissociative identity disorder. Not entirely sure the difference; I don’t study psychology. Sorry. There’s even a petition going around to have the film boycotted. I’ll post a couple links below.
I don’t know, I don’t think anyone involved with that has actually seen the film and is jumping to conclusions. Having seen the movie, I don’t recall a moment where the movie outright, or even subtly states that people with this disorder should be feared and have a bad reputation for kidnapping. It’s just this one guy. Granted, it never addresses that all people with this disorder shouldn’t be feared and that this is an extreme and unique case, but maybe by simple implication that Kevin has twenty-three, almost twenty-four personalities sounds a bit extreme in itself. But what do I know? Maybe those that do know more will see this movie and be able to point out what exactly was harmful. But I also like to think that the vast majority of audiences seeing this movie are smart enough to know that… it’s a movie. It’s not real. No one is taking it that seriously. But like I said, I wouldn’t know. All I do know is this: I don’t fear people with this disorder, I do not think this movie is an accurate representation of them, and I think it’s just a movie.
Speaking of the movie, let’s get to this review, eh? As I said, I think it’s just, meh. Not nearly as awful as Shyamalan’s previous work, but I’m still not convinced he’s on a comeback.
First and foremost, and this is going to sound unbelievably hypocritical, I think the idea behind the movie is actually ingenious. At least, at first glance. These three young women have to interact with each personality to see who will help them or who will ultimately make their escape harder, it’s brilliant. At least… that’s the idea I got from it. Even in the trailer, that’s not how the idea presents itself. All you get is some build-up to a monster-like personality. And once you see the movie… yeah, no, that’s exactly what the movie is. You kind of get some of the “see which personality can be trusted” bit, but it’s not the focus of the story. And that’s my biggest problem I had with the movie; the potential was there, but it was horridly squandered. Out of the twenty-three/twenty-four personalities that are referenced, you see maybe less than ten of them, and fewer of those get any development. For as much marketing as there is around “23 personalities” it seems pointless to make his condition seem more severe than is actually portrayed in the story. I feel like it would have worked better if the audience didn’t know how many personalities were inside Kevin, or… you know, shorten the number of personalities that he actually has.
Also, anyone expecting a psychological horror or a tense thriller of any kind should leave those expectations at the door. It’s not suspenseful at all. Maybe with the exception of this coat-hanger scene with one of the ladies trying to escape from a room, that scene was pretty well done, but a scene that lasts somewhere between five to ten minutes out of a two hour flick? Yeah, this is a drama with a thin psychological border. Kind of misleading.
But before anyone starts thinking that I only have negative things to say about the film, I do have a few positives. First off, I absolutely love Taylor-Joy’s performance as Casey. Her performance is surprisingly nuanced and there’s an emotional payoff later that makes everything about her make perfect sense. That’s actually one of the bigger surprises with this script is how interesting he made these young women and how there’s a kind of role-reversal in their portrayal. What I mean by this is Claire is the determined, “We need to stand up to this guy and fight him” type, usually associated with an action hero protagonist in traditional movies, and Casey’s the “Fighting won’t help us, we’re so screwed” type that’s associated with the hysterical ones that die first. But in this case, Casey is the one the story focuses most on and despite Claire’s determination, she’s a supporting character. And neither character is really unlikable. They’re not really annoying or shameless cardboard cutouts of bad characters from other bad movies, which is awesome. Maybe the character Marcia isn’t memorable by comparison, but not memorable is better than memorably annoying, like most of Shyamalan’s characters.
McAvoy also does a… ninety percent good performance. About the only issue I took was his portrayal of Hedwig, the nine-year-old boy. I don’t know, the way he talks closer resembles a five-year-old… a really bad portrayal of a five-year-old. But I guess someone could argue that it’s not meant to be an accurate portrayal of a nine-year-old, but rather what Kevin perceived as a nine-year-old. And the Beast was a bit silly and anti-climactic, but everything else seemed pretty solid. His wardrobe, his accents, his mannerisms, it was a damn good series of roles all from one dude. I liked it.
I guess now it’s time to talk about the big twist in the film that wasn’t given away in the trailer. At the end of the film, before the credits role, the news reports about the incident that happened with Casey and the now affectionately named The Horde, referring to Kevin and his many personalities, and patrons at a diner talk about “a similar incident fifteen years ago,” to which Bruce Willis is revealed to say the name, “Mr. Glass,” the nickname given to Samuel L. Jackson’s character in UNBREAKABLE (2000). So… yeah, this is essentially a sequel to that film, and… I guess the twist is that the audience thought that they were watching a psychological horror or thriller, but turns out it was a supervillain origin story. Uh… yeah, okay… in the words from Robot Chicken, “What a twist!” I think this twist and how awesome you think it is solely depends on how much you liked UNBREAKABLE, but I do have to admit that the possibilities are… intriguing. Willis’ David Dunn, the invincible man, squaring off against The Horde? Yeah, I’d like to see that. I’m even considering to write an editorial about what I’d like to see in that possible face-off.
Overall, I hate to use this pun, but I’m split about it. On the one hand, Shyamalan clearly improved on creating compelling and interesting characters and continues his string of good ideas. On the other hand, his inability to cash in on the greatness of his own ideas and settle for mediocrity continues as well, which does hurt the film. By no means bad, and I might recommend it for anyone who is interested in a Shyamalan film that isn’t downright bad, or genuinely thinks he’s on a comeback, but there’s still too many problems for me to even consider it above average. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it either.
My honest rating for M. Night Shyamalan’s SPLIT: 3/5.