[Early Review] Split (2016)

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Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Betty Buckley

Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan

117 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.

 

Good, I needed to wash disappointment of The Bye Bye Man away…

In Split, the newest horror film from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Visit), three girls are kidnapped leaving a birthday party and awaken in a strange and unknown room. Their kidnapper is Dennis (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class, Victor Frankenstein), a creepy and unstable man with an interest in watching girls dance naked. But it gets worse, because Dennis is also Patricia, a woman who strives for perfection and has a dark plan for the girls. Patricia is also Barry, who loves fashion and shows his sketches to his doctor, Karen Fletcher (TV’s Eight is Enough, The Happening). Dennis, Patricia, and Barry are just three of the twenty-three identities within one man, Kevin. As Dennis and Patricia put a plan into action to have the girls killed for a higher purpose, one of them, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch, Barry) uses her wits in an attempt to free herself and the others before a 24th personality, known only as The Beast, is unleashed upon them.

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I didn’t see The Visit. The last film from Shyamalan that I partook in was The Last Airbender, so as I recall, the breakup was pretty rough. Well, I’m glad to say that, with Split, M. Night is back and at his most loony. Split is a fun, taut thriller that plays like something out of the annals of Tales from the Crypt. It begins with an interesting idea, slightly unhinged, with excellent and engrossing characters, and a twist that works so well and only adds to the fun of the film rather than take away like The Village did.

McAvoy is at the top of his game here as he is given the ultimate acting showcase, switching between identities at will without dropping a note. And each identity is given so much character and charisma that it’s easy to see who is in charge of Kevin at any given moment. That’s the real win with his performance. I look at films like Transformers (wait, hear me out) and it often becomes difficult to ascertain which character is which when all the robots are fighting because they all look so similar, but in Split, it is perfectly clear at all times, even when Kevin is having a disagreement with himself.

Supporting players Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley are also notably great. Taylor-Joy is really quickly rising up the fame ladder, appearing in 3 films of merit last year and The Witch the year before. She is impressively smart and skilled as Casey. Buckley has been a mainstay of film and television for some time stemming back to her first role in Brian DePalma’s Carrie. The level of gravitas only seeks to make the film more believable especially when it hits the height of its lunacy.

The film is not without its detractors. My fiancé, for example, who has a background in the medical field, found that the suspension of disbelief was too much for the central plot to work. I disagreed with her, but I do understand how someone more aware of Dissociative Identity Disorder might not buy in. For me personally, with my background and understanding of Shyamalan’s inspirations, it worked very well.

I didn’t enjoy having the 23 identities always tossed around when we really only get to meet 6 or 7 of them. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to at least glimpse the others at some point as it was an expectation I had due the constant reference to so many personalities. But I think 23 personalities sells better than 6 or 7.

I also wasn’t too keen on the ending, and I don’t mean the twist, which I enjoyed, but the ending itself. I felt like Casey’s flashbacks didn’t go far to add much to the plot, and I feel like it was really supposed to mean something, but it didn’t. The reason why the twist worked so well is because if you don’t get it, and trust me, not everyone will, but if you don’t get it, it doesn’t take anything away from the film. For attentive viewers, the payoff is worth it.

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Split was so much fun, and I really enjoyed that all the characters, including but not limited to the ones on McAvoy’s head, were so vivid and real and helped to ground the unreal story and keep the momentum. My frustrations didn’t ruin the experience for me at all, and in fact, I rather enjoyed the film and can’t wait to see it again.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Split? What did you think? Let me know/Comment below!

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