Over the weekend I went out to watch M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s psychological thriller Split. As is my usual custom, I waited until the movie was in its fourth and usually last week in theatres and went to the latest showing. Usually guarantees as few people in the theatre as possible. What I didn’t take into account however, was that a) it was Valentine’s weekend b) John Wick 2, the neo-noir action sequel to one of my favorite ‘hit men’ movies had just released on Friday and c) the desperate housewives’ guilty pleasure Fifty Shades had come out at the same time. What this meant for me ultimately though was that a lot of frustrated people who were sold out of either John Wick 2 or Fifty Shades had reluctantly decided to join me for Split since ‘nothing else was on’.
Normally I worry when I know that the theatre is filled with people who didn’t want to watch this film to begin with. It’s my Ex Machina experience all over again. (Great movie by the way, IF you’re into it of course.) But let me tell you…Split made a fan of every single person in that theatre. It was that good. I had an absolute blast and Split has the potential to be a fast fan favorite for anyone who gets a chance to watch it. Of course, the problem with my system is as much as I love the movie and want to let others know about it, I’m usually the last to say anything and by this time you might not be able to catch it in theatres anymore.
BUT if you can, or if you get the chance later on to get the movie on DVD or blu-ray or NetFlix or *cough*illegalpirating*cough*…DO IT. I cannot stress this enough. Watch this film! Why? Let me tell you why.
I think we were all pretty blown away by M. Night ShaquilleONeal’s 1999 hit Sixth Sense. I remember the buzz and the excitement and the sort of brotherhood of secrecy surrounding its surprise twist ending. ‘You have to watch it, man’ should have been it’s tagline, along with ‘You’ll never see it coming’. If at this point you still haven’t seen it, Bruce Willis was dead the entire time. Don’t hate me. You deserved that. He who hesitates is lost. So then after that he directs Signs which was decent, had some good suspense, dealt with some heavy topics, and audiences could debate whether the monsters in the film were demons or aliens. For the most part though, M. Night ChakaKhan is best known for his characteristic ‘surprise twist’ endings. Pretty much everyone going to see an M. Night Shamwow movie kind of knows that whatever they’re watching, there’s going to be some twist. Which unfortunately removes some of the magic, and that’s perhaps why I, along with many others, was so critical of his 2004 film The Village. The twist was expected in terms of device but maybe not in terms of actually knowing what it would be, but even then the final reveal was just so..implausible, uninteresting, and uninspired that the movie really fell flat. Then he makes that terrible eco-horror The Happening and tries to lean into the curve by saying ‘we were trying to make a good B-movie’ but killer plants isn’t really my thing. He absolutely BUTCHERS and KILLS one of my favorite childhood memories in his film adaptation (read: travesty) of Avatar: The Last Airbender and honestly after his Scientology recruitment film After Earth, I was ready (and more than happy) to put the final nail in the coffin and declare M. Night ShakenBake’s career officially dead.
This is kind of why I was both excited and anxious about watching Split. The trailer seemed promising and delivered that kind of uncomfortable insanity that’s just close enough to normal to be able to slip under the radar until it’s too late. I am a big fan of James McAvoy and not just as Charles Xavier. These split personalities seem fascinating and frightening and manic. I really wanted to see it but god, seeing M. Night Shishkebab’s name in the trailer really worried me.
I went into that theatre knowing nothing of the film. I hadn’t read any of the reviews (which turned out to be generally very favorable) or looked up anything regarding its story or plot (spoiler alert: there isn’t exactly a ‘twist’ but there is a surprise ending). It starts off pretty inconspicuously. A group of teenagers at a birthday part are heading home being driven by one girl’s father. They (of course) get in the car by themselves while the father (of course) is too busy and distracted loading all the gifts and leftover cake into the car and is (of course) not suspicious of a strange man walking straight towards him in an (of course) empty parking lot. Situational awareness, people. What follows is the implied kidnapping and transport of the three girls as we only see them again as they wake up disoriented and inside a windowless, locked room in an unknown location.
That’s all well and good and tried and true, so it is no surprise that the setup is done well enough and with just enough information to make things tense and worrisome. In the meanwhile we are gradually introduced to James McAvoy’s character(s) as multiple personalities living within the same body. ‘Kevin’ suffers from DID (dissociative identity disorder) and has 23 different personalities all vying for their time in ‘the light’, meaning in control of Kevin’s body. Three of them in particular seem to have taken control and are staging some sort of mental coup for order after having been silenced by the others for particularly violent, depraved, and frightening views.
James McAvoy does an absolutely stellar job of creating convincing characters and making
each voice immediately recognizable and pronounced. His ‘Patricia’ is chillingly calculated and the most unpredictably unnerving. ‘Dennis’ is strong, dominant, and convincingly displays his own mental struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. The 9-year old identity of innocent, naive ‘Hedwig’ is so shocking, so jarring, because it is a complete 180 from the other two darker personalities. He is funny, sweet, ‘et cetera’ (inside joke, you gotta watch it, man). He absolutely steals the show, which is what you would expect and hope for when the movie’s success relies on his ability to convince us of the realness of this internal power struggle and the violent and dark potential within.
The movie is not entirely without its own personality shifts. The underlying tone of seriousness is at times interrupted by minor bits of comic relief. The thriller gives way near the end to bouts of straight up horror and action. The pacing is expertly suspenseful. The fun part of having an actual audience is I get to see how the film elicits emotions. Not that I’m not responsive, but I’m usually not expressive. So I got to hear the audience laugh at innocent Hedwig. Express fear at the appearance of the ‘Beast’. The movie was working and working extremely well, gauging the audience’s reaction.
I thoroughly enjoyed Split. I think it was everything it was supposed to be and then some. The ending was honestly so far out of left field I was genuinely surprised, but most of all excited, because of the potential it had. I am not ready yet to say that M. Night Schadenfreude has been able to escape his career’s death spiral, but this certainly marks an intelligent and well-constructed effort out.
Man: 189 Loneliness: 32