Monday, January 30, 2017

A Reel Review: SPLIT

When writer/director M. Night Shyamalan exploded onto mainstream cinema over 20 years ago, he was immediately hailed as the next great wizard of film. Since then he has had plenty of ups and downs, before hitting the point where his name became a running joke and no studio would touch him with a ten-foot cattle prod. But in recent years there has been a slight spark of his old magic, and his newest film, SPLIT, offers every opportunity for the embattled filmmaker to regain some of his old praise.

Three teenage girls (Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Anya Taylor-Joy), are kidnapped by “Dennis”, one of the 23 split personalities inhabiting the body of Kevin (James McAvoy). While in captivity, the girls encounter the other personalities, while Kevin’s psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), begins to wonder what he has been up to recently.

Ever the patient one, M. Night is no hurry to unspool the many secrets he has hidden away in SPLIT. After some fine character building with the girls, the film moves into a closed-quarters paranoia-infused horror territory, with the unpredictable nature of Kevin’s personalities adding more terror to the situation of being held captive in a basement. What seems to be a simple plot of finding a way out is compounded by the mystery of which personality is going to appear next (ranging from an old British woman to a nine year-old boy), and finding the one personality who may be able to help them escape. The clock is ticking, as the personalities often make references to “the beast”, which seems to be on its way with deadly intentions.

SPLIT above all else is a horror movie, as the terror of being kidnapped by a nutcase should be enough to scare anyone in the real world. While the film does have an atmosphere of pending doom, it does feel like the tension and fear could have been amped up a bit more. There are no real jump-scares or white-knuckle moments, and there’s a flatness to the emotion that M. Night is going for. The horror bits are interrupted by therapy sessions between Kevin and Dr. Fletcher which offsets things, but still, SPLIT functions just fine on the surface.

Acting is wonderful and it all comes down to the marvelous talent of James McAvoy who is basically being asked to play several different characters in a short amount of time. McAvoy is convincing enough where he acts past his body and sells each personality, and the drastic changes he goes through towards the climax of the film are stunning. The younger cast members also do well, with most of the work going to Anya Taylor-Joy, who finds a great chemistry with McAvoy and his many faces. Taylor-Joy also does fine work in selling the more ridiculous situations, such as Kevin acting like an old woman or little kid.

SPLIT seems fairly straight-forward, but then comes the ending...and what an ending it is that M. Night unleashes on us. It’s not a twist as much as a surprise and it brings along a revelation which changes the entire perspective on the film, as everything we thought we may have figured out goes out the window; long-time followers and fans of M. Night are sure to leave the theatre with a mile-wide grin. M. Night has put together a clever thriller here, and while it’s not perfect, has all the elements that a good wizard would wield.


No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.