Review in a Flash: “Split”

Sometimes I’m too lazy for a full-out piece. Sometimes everything I’ve got to say about a film can be summarized in a sentence or two. Sometimes it’s both. So herewith, a quick-n-dirty on M. Night Shyamalan’s latest…Split!

split-poster“You like to make fun of us. But we’re more powerful than you think.”

Nutshell: A surprisingly effective horror thriller that recalls  classic psychological scares of the 70s. Though a bit wobbly in the middle, there’s more than enough solid filmmaking – and acting, thanks to a tour-de-force performance by James McAvoy – to keep things from spilling into mediocrity. Grade: B+

Before: Hmm.  M. Night’s got a new film out?  I loved The Village (no, you shut up) really dug Devil, and even understood what he was trying to do with Lady In The Water. But After Earth was…odd in a bad way.  And the less said about The Last Airbender, the better.  But McAvoy has won my allegiance with his work on the X-Men series, and I did want to see more of Anna Taylor-Joy after Morgan.  So alright; let’s do this.

During: McAvoy is absolutely amazing…and is that the wonderful Betty Buckley as his psychiatrist?  It is! Woohoo!  She’s awesome, and she’s awesome here.  I want all her character’s jewelry too.  Feels a bit cliché sometimes; anyone who’s seen Sybil, Three Faces of Eve, or any other Disassociative Identity Disorder (aka “multiple personality disorder”) film knows the “Who am I speaking to now” drill.  But Buckley and McAvoy sell it well.

And I thought Taylor-Joy would be good in anything she’d be put into. As kidnapping victim Casey, Taylor-Joy is smart, but there’s a vulnerability to her that’s a perfect fit for the teenage outcast.  Her “friends” sharing a locked room, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula (Skins) rise above the teen stereotypes their characters start out with.  Of course, some of that rising above goes to M. Night as well, for writing layered characters.

After: Why am I having such a difficult time figuring out how I feel about this movie?  It was effective, it had a nice amount of gore for a PG-13 rating (not overkill, but it’s definitely there), and M. Night didn’t write himself in as a main character.  Should be a slam-dunk thumbs up, right?  Hmm.  Perhaps it’s because there were many instances where superb acting covered a multitude of plot gaps and iffy connections.

Am I being too harsh?  Perhaps.  But with a writer/director like M. Night Shyamalan, who is capable of amazing things, there are times in Split where the reasons why things are happening are glossed over, or ignored completely.  It would have been a more interesting film, had the story taken more of a peek behind the main character’s curtain.  Watching McAvoy do his thing is amazing, no doubt.  But there’s no real reason to empathize with his character’s problem, beyond the sometimes sweet personalities that take “the light”.  And while Taylor-Joy’s Casey is allowed a backstory, hers is a bit too fleshed out, and that much attention serves no purpose.  It’s an interesting one, but one that could have been told in a few judicious sentences to achieve the same ultimate effect.

So yeah.  Good movie, could have been better.  Performances worth watching.  And a movie that didn’t suck from M. Night.  Not too shabby, even though I kinda wish there’d been…more.  And no, I’m not talking about that final scene.  That was fun, but not necessary in the slightest.

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