Confession time. I am a huge fan of M. Night Shamalamadingdong, and no amount of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s are going to stop me from saying that. I loved The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable might be the best superhero movie ever made, and Signs might be in my Top 5 movies of all time. Did I just name off the 3 movies that made him famous in the first place? Sure, but there’s a damn good reason why they made him famous. His decline really started in 2004 with the release of The Village. This movie wasn’t bad, but it definitely started too show people that maybe Shyamalan relied to heavily on his signature plot twists to make good movies. Film after film followed, each seemed to dig Shyamalan into a deeper hole. Eventually, he secluded himself from the film world, no doubt in the hope that people would forget about his past transgressions so that he could emerge as a hero once again…
Unfortunately, his return to cinema did not quite have the impact he had hoped it would. Last year, he released a found-footage film called The Visit, which followed two young adults spending a week at their grandparents’ house… who they’ve somehow never met prior to this week. Anyway, some bullshit ensues and it turns out that grammy and pawpaw aren’t all they’ve cracked up to be.
This year, however, Shyamalan announced a new project that featured many of the same crew members that worked on the horror film It Follows, which garnered a decent following because of its striking visuals. The project also generated some buzz when it was announced that James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy (recently made famous for her role in The Witch) would play the leading roles. As a faithful Shamalamadingdong follower, I crossed my fingers and stormed into the theater once it was released.
Before I continue, I think I need to put a disclaimer here. I am simply grading this portion of the film as if it were Shyamalan’s first film. For those that have already seen the movie, then you’ll understand why. For those that have not, I’d honestly encourage you to not read this portion (and especially don’t read the X-Factor) and just go see the movie.
Split immediately kicks things off with James McAvoy kidnapping 3 young women within the film’s first 3 minutes. The next 30 minutes of the film are a lot like walking through a haunted corn maze (if you’re easily scared): it’s suspenseful because you have no idea where to go and there’s tons of things coming at you. The film jumps from scene to scene, adding more and more depth to the characters and plot. But it isn’t jumpy in the sense that it confuses you or moves too fast. The story is being carefully laid out before you, so that it’s easier to understand once we get into the meat of the story.
The film’s second act is short, but it seems repetitive. This is where it’s very important to pay attention to McAvoy and his, um… internal conflict.
Admittedly, the third act of the film nearly lost me. If you paid attention to the trailer, then this won’t spoil anything, but the idea that each individual personality in a person with DID or MPD has different physical characteristics was hard to get onboard with. And then when he actually starts to transform because of them?? I mean c’mon, that’s absurd, right? This is just where you’re going to have to trust me when I say to power through it. Like some of Shyamalan’s previous works, it takes some patience from the viewer in order to get the full pay off. And boy, did this one pay off.
I gave the story a mediocre score because it would have been mediocre without the last ten minutes of the film, which you can read about in the X-Factor if you want the movie to be spoiled for you.
James McAvoy is insane in the film. No, I can’t say that, his character is literally insane. James McAvoy kills it in this film. Shit! I can’t say that either. He’s an absolute beast…
I give up.
The point is that McAvoy is incredible in this film, and it’s a shame that it didn’t come out a month earlier so that he could grab an Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, the studio screwed up and released this film in the middle of January, which is a big no-no if you really want your movie to be taken seriously.
Anya Taylor-Joy is also good in this film, but McAvoy still steals most of the spotlight away from her. She is definitely a talent to watch out for in the future.
The reason I gave this an 8.8 instead of a 9 or higher is because of the fact that a lot of the secondary characters are pretty mediocre. Namely, Betty Buckley, who plays McAvoy’s psychiatrist. She and a host of the other secondary characters deliver their lines pretty lazily for the most part.
No matter how stupid the script might be, Shyamalan always comes through by making a great looking film. Split was no exception, and actually might feature some of his best work. His attention to little details, like the smallest object in a room, or the smallest marks on someone’s skin, really allow the viewer to be entranced by a shot that might just be McAvoy staring into a mirror.
[WARNING: HUGE SPOILER AHEAD. If you do not wish to have this film spoiled for you, then please stop reading, close your browser, turn off your computer, and go play with your dog or something. I’m sure it misses you.]
HOLY CRAP. For the last 3 minutes of this film, I had a huge smile on my face and was seated on the very edge of my chair. I felt like a little kid seeing a Jurassic Park movie for the first time again.
So, the big reveal was NOT that McAvoy’s disorder gave him superpowers, like everyone thought it would be. You were supposed to figure that out on your own from the trailers (I think… at least I did). The big reveal was that he already had the superpowers, and it merely took one of his more sinister personalities to bring them out of him, AND that this is all taking place in the world, even the same city, as Unbreakable! That means that this was actually a super-villain origin story in the same way that Unbreakable was a superhero origin story. One of the last shots of the film shows Bruce Willis, as David Dunn, watching a news report on the incident involving McAvoy’s character. For Shyamalan to bring back one of his most loved works 17 years after it was released is incredibly brave, but it has definitely put him back in his rightful place amongst current cinema greats.
The implication is that Shyamalan will now make a sequel where these 2 characters meet each other in what is sure to be the most surreal superhero movie to ever be made, and I can’t pretend that I’m not EXTREMELY excited for this film.
It would seem all those years of doing my best to dislike conventional superhero movies has come around to bite me in the ass, because now I’m the one fan-boying over a superhero movie that hasn’t technically even been announced yet.
Split was probably the most exciting movie-going experience that I’ve had since going to see Arrival a few months ago. If you can consider yourself a fan of at least Shyamalan’s earlier work, then I would highly recommend going to see it while it’s still out in theaters. If you don’t know much about Shyamalan, then I can still recommend it, but only with the foreknowledge that you might not understand the ending as well as other people in the audience (i.e. there will probably be people clapping and cheering and you’ll be totally confused).