20170129

A film review: Don't you DARE 'Split' while watching this movie!

Origin: United States · Language: English
Writer & director: M. Night Shyamalan
Genre: Psychological horror · Release: January 20, 2017

Casts: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy,
Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula
Haley Lu Richardson

More info: IMDb
I'm not really a follower of this director who was previously known as Mr. The-Director-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. All I do know is the fact that he pretty much have a bad rep since The Last Airbender, an ill-received and poorly-made adaptation of Nickelodeon's awesome Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series. Then, he made a soft return to making good movies through the safe-ish route that is The Visit, a found footage horror thriller that have shots of self-depreciation jokes and dark humour with decent performances by its two upcoming young actors (which I have reviewed here). Enter 2017, where he has made a legitimately triumphant return!

I first came across this film when I was watching its trailer in theatres. James McAvoy of Wanted and X-Men film series fame is the lead and he went batshit crazy in it. After some more exposure on this film via the good old web, I was informed that the film also features Anya Taylor-Joy, also an upcoming rising star, who rose to prominence thanks to the indie horror flick The Witch which I also have yet to see, and people really liked her in that film. I was coloured impress by Split's trailer. I guess I should give it a chance to see if it really spooked me without anticipating the "twist" that Shyamalan is known for before The Last Airbender. Oh it has that, indeed, but I did NOT see it coming, ESPECIALLY THE ENDING!

Since this film is hard to review without giving away much of the events, this review is going to be SPOILER-FILLED. Consider yourself warned!

The film's premise is centered around Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy), a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder with at least 23 different personalities who kidnapped three female teenagers consisting of Casey Cooke (Taylor-Joy), Claire Benoit (Richardson) and Marcia (Sula). They were kidnapped for an unspeakable purpose; to be fed to Kevin's burried 24th personality dubbed as "The Beast." There you go: M. Night Shyamalan is forcing Professor X to become lots of different people in the same body. Asshole.

Fret not, people. Despite the reveal of an overwhelming number of personalities and three victims that Kevin have kidnapped for a film that feels small as this, Shyamalan only focused on four of them that are more dominant than the others and only one of the girls. One could argue "Why the heck doesn't he just go nuts with ALL of those personalities?" and "Why only focus on Anya Taylor-Joy's character? Why waste the other two females?"; that would be convoluted, I'd say. His aim is to make a rather streamlined film with maximum yet justified suspense and gore with a decent storytelling, and it looks like he totally excelled at that. Most of the thrilling parts are well-paced/edited such as scenes where Kevin and his personalities are trying to keep his captives stay in their imprisonment and well-hidden such as the reveal of the Beast and what it can do to people. However, I found that the lore and facts of the film's settings such as the explanation on Kevin's disorder and its connection with Shyamalan's previous reverse-superhero film Unbreakable as being too on-the-nose (except for the part where Shyamalan foreshadows the immediate appearance of Bruce Willis's character from Unbreakable through the use of the same background music from the said film that is used to accompany the scene where David is slowly discovering the extent of his untapped abilities at the train station; THAT is a nice, subtle touch). But all is forgiven, Shyamalan. Because of the blatant reference and other aspects of its storytelling, the already stellar comeback becomes an epic small-saga for his little superhero universe while at the same time making it a solid stand-alone film. Despite the approach, it fits into the world of Unbreakable really well.

Other than the well-written story arcs on the events of the film and its characters as well as its subtle technicalities, the actors also played well with what Shyamalan have concocted for Split. We are dealing with a main character whose mental is segmented into many pieces due to a troubled past, and McAvoy perfectly captures what his character was written as. He's a (please don't mind me saying this) a beast of an actor! We can really distinguish each personality to the next without obvious visual clues to differentiate each of them, given how Shyamalan wants this film to play out (heck, he even nailed it when one of his personality is masquerading as another personality!), and that is hard to do. He is menacing even without excessive and unnecessary make-up to appear scary. He really does embody Kevin and his 24th personality to the max! Another props must also be given to Anya Taylor-Joy. I initially questioned why is she the only one who gets a backstory, but I changed my mind as the film progresses. She has faced a different kind of beast once, which broke her, and that is the very reason why Kevin's Beast decides to spare her; she is in line with the Beast's idea of "purity." Her character's decision to be reserved is the very reason why Taylor-Joy's character is more prominent in terms of her characterisation and how she adheres to her character very superbly. She is going places! I really must watch The Witch one of these days!

That's it, folks. Here is my final say on Split: I did NOT expect this film to be better than I hoped it would be! Welcome back, Shyamalan! Screw this film's shared continuity with Unbreakable! It's good that I don't know much about it before! It's a decent film all on its own, and that's a rarity these days in the world of shared universe film franchise building is not stopping anytime soon! Thank you for making good movies again! Can't wait for Unbreakable's sequel should it ever materialize!

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