February 3, 2017

Movie Review: Split

I guess I should start out by saying I like M. Night Shyamalan films. I am sure that is going to turn away a certain percentage of you as it seems the appearance of his seems to be the punchline to an unspoken joke to many. No, I do not like all of his films, but when he is on his game, he can make a very good film. His last film, The Visit, seemed to indicate a return to form of sorts, so with the release of Split there was every reason to hope the trend would continue. I am very happy to report that the upward trend is there. Split is very good film. Perfect? No, and at times frustrating, but it is always interesting and it has a fascinating conclusion that is not a twist, but does alter the perception of what came before it.

Split is the latest offering from writer/director Shyamalan who made quite a splash in 1999 with The Sixth Sense and went on to release a string of supernatural-tinged films that seemed to get a bit more ridiculous as he went along. He appears to have sidestepped into a hired gun director type of direction for a couple of films, The Last Airbender and After Earth, before returning to his roots with The Visit. With Split, it appears he is rebuilding his ambition with a fascinating look, if not realistic, look at a fictionalized type of multiple personality disorder. The resulting film is involving, frustrating, and ultimately quite good.

The movie centers on a character(s) played by James McAvoy (who I somehow did not recognize when I first saw the trailer), he suffers from a multiple personality disorder of a very extreme variety. His doctor has identified 23 distinct personalities residing inside his head, his real name is Kevin, but we meet Barry, Dennis, Hedwig, Patricia, and others. Each one has its own personality and even physical traits/illnesses (one is revealed to be diabetic). Anyway, not all of the personalities are benevolent and the story finds him kidnapping three teenage girls and taking them to some underground facility.

One of the girls is Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch). She is a school outsider and kidnapped with the other girls by pure chance. She appears to be the one girl with a level head although we do find all of them doing the opposite of what they should be doing in an attempt to figure what is going on and escape from their bizarre captor. Of course, through flashback we learn more about Casey and this reveals a lot of how she is going to fit into the climax of the film.

This is one of those movies that is hard to really discuss in depth without giving important elements away. At the same time, it seems like there are stretches where not a lot happens. This is not an action movie, it is much more psychological in nature and driven by the characters. It is fascinating to watch these interactions as their relationships develop over the course of the movie.

Like most Shyamalan films, I spent part of the early goings attempting to guess what the twist may be. I had an idea, but it ultimately proved to be way off. There really isn’t a twist, but watching the personalities interact and then what happens at the end is pretty great. The real star here is James McAvoy (who wasn’t even the original man for the role). He does an amazing job giving these different personalities life, slipping between them all with ease. Truly the best performance so far in this young year.

Split is a movie that is open enough to extrapolate some of the world, yet tight enough to remain focused on the characters at hand. It is character driven, yet leaves some very interesting questions about the world once it ends. It is a movie that will either leave you happy and wondering or annoyed and questioning, if that makes sense. It was not what I expected it to be and turned out to be mostly what I wanted.


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