M Night Shyamalan

Split

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Three teenage girls are kidnapped and held captive by a man. It soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary man. He has 23 distinct personalities living within his mind. A few of those personalities have taken over and have devised a plan. They want to use the young girls in order to bring out a 24th personality known only as The Beast. The girls must either find a way to escape or try to convince one of the personalities to help them before it’s too late.

In the past there have been some pretty great films with characters who have dissociative identity disorder. A couple of them have even been in the horror genre. Split will go down as one of the top films featuring someone with multiple personalities. There are many reasons Split is a standout film for me. A large part of this is the way the main character, Kevin, was written. I appreciated that they emphasized that, while there are evil personalities within Kevin, many of them are good. It is similar to looking at a group of people in a room; some of them will be good and some of them will have a dark side. It is almost a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde scenario where the actions of one personality cannot be blamed on another. I also love that the film explained how Kevin gained his personalities and that each of them came into being for different reasons depending on Kevin’s needs. By having one of the main characters in the film be Kevin’s psychologist the audience gets a more in-depth look into the inner workings of his mind.

The film also did an excellent job of having unique characters in each of the girls. While all of them are important in their own way, one of them is very important to the story. Casey is the dark and mysterious loner of the group. She is more observant than the other girls and uses whatever knowledge she can gain to survive. Learning about Casey and her past alongside Kevin’s added a very interesting juxtaposition. We as the audience get to see how both characters went through rather traumatic childhoods. While they are both emotionally, mentally, and even physically damaged from this trauma, it is interesting to see how they both coped with things in vastly different ways.

All five of the leads in Split did a tremendous job. James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class, Wanted) gave one of the best performances I have ever seen from him as Kevin and all his many other personalities. What made McAvoy’s performances so great was that you could clearly tell which personality he was at all times. Not only did he change his voice to fit each personality, but he even changed his body language. He simply blew me away. As always, Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Morgan) was also amazing as Casey. Taylor-Joy has made a name for herself in the horror world, and Split was no different. She expertly portrayed Casey as a survivor. Casey will use what she has learned from her sorted past to get through any obstacle that comes her way. McAvoy and Taylor-Joy’s moments together on screen made for some chilling scenes.

M. Night Shyamalan is known for having amazing twists in his films. Something that he has done more recently in The Visit and Split is add humor to his films. Split is a very gritty, intense, and sometimes even frightening film. Interspersed throughout all that are a lot of very humorous parts. In a film like this, having humor can be a risky decision. Ultimately I thought having times where the audience can laugh not only added some relief between scenes of high tension, but also made the film have a bit more of a realistic flare. If you are dealing with someone who has multiple personalities, some being 9 years old or the opposite sex of the body, it is only natural that humorous things will happen.

While overall I loved the film, there is one thing that keeps bothering me. I will be as vague as possible since going into too much detail will spoil some things. There is one scene at the end of the film. The scene lasts maybe 2 minutes and it is the last thing you see. This one scene managed to ruin the film a bit for me. While I can see why some people will be thrilled by it, I am not one of those people. Others will simply have no idea what the significance of those last two minutes are. The scene turned this film into something completely different than you would have expected by watching the first hour and 55 minutes. It is something new for Shyamalan, and it definitely leaves room for him to possibly do his first sequel. Yet I simply can’t get on board with how he ended the film.

Split is not only an edge of your seat film, but it is also a film that shows the many interesting facets of the human brain. If nothing else this film is worth seeing just to watch James McAvoy playing numerous characters. There are definitely more things to love about Split than hate. Personally I wish the film had ended without the addition of that last scene. For those of you who plan on seeing Split, I have one very vague piece of advice for you. Be sure that you are familiar with all of Shyamalan’s previous films.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

The Visit

A single mother has not seen her parents since before her kids were born due to a falling out. After several years of silence, her parents finally reach out. They want their grandchildren to come visit for a week. The kids go to stay with the grandparents they have never met on a rural farm, and the granddaughter decides to make a documentary about their time together. While everything seems normal at first, the kids soon realize that something is very wrong with their grandparents.

M. Night Shyamalan is back. After a couple hits, followed by several misses, Shyamalan has finally done a film that I can genuinely say I enjoyed watching. I believe what made this film so successful is that he went back to the roots of filmmaking, and I mean he really did. Olivia DeJonge (The Sisterhood of Night) plays Becca, the granddaughter who is putting together the documentary about her grandparents. Shyamalan uses Becca to show the filmmaking basics, having her go through the various steps of putting a film together while also explaining different filmmaking terms. This method made this film more successful because of it’s simplicity. The film was also successful because it was downright creepy. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was very scary, with the exception of a few jump scares, but it definitely gave you the feeling of unease and even panic.

The acting in this film was definitely the highlight for me. DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) were great as the grandchildren, but I have to say the grandparents stole the show. Peter McRobbie (Lincoln) played Pop Pop and was spectacular. What was probably the most interesting part of his performance was how subtle he portrayed his character’s odd behavior. Most of the time McRobbie’s character acted relatively normal, but then you would notice him doing or saying something that was off. If made you gradually realize that he wasn’t all there. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have Deanna Dunagan (Dimension) who played Nana. Her issues becomes apparent much more quickly, and Dunagan does an excellent job making us believe it. Her performance is most striking in the moments where Nana seems completely lucid, but then quickly falls back into her odd and extreme behaviors.

One of the things that Shyamalan is famous for is that he always has a twist in his films. This film was no exception, but it was a much more subtle twist. Sadly, I was able to figure out the twist long before it was revealed. Despite this I still thought the ending was done really well. Me knowing what the twist was didn’t take away from the intensity of the ending at all. The fact that the twist was so simple, but still shocking and frightening, is another example of Shyamalan going back to basics to make this film a hit.

After seeing this film, I am very relieved. Ever since I saw the initial trailer I have been concerned that this film would be a rip-off of The Taking of Deborah Logan, which came out last year (and was one of the favorite horror films of 2014). While the films were similar in their documentary style and the fact that both dealt with deteriorating mental states in the elderly, I’m happy to say that in most other respects they were very different films. If you liked The Taking of Deborah Logan, you will probably enjoy The Visit. If you used to love M. Night Shyamalan, but have been jaded by the several recent flops he’s done, give The Visit a chance. It will keep you at the edge of your seat, it has a great twist, and it has a healthy dose of humor thrown into the mix to keep things interesting.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10