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Split: Good and Bad Faces

Rarely has there been a movie director as loved, hated, then loved again as the eminent M. Night Shyamalan.

Have we got there? Have we finally made it back? Are we ready to welcome back our once favorite thrill director after his string of abominations (*cough* The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth *cough*)? I’m not quite sure, but after the enjoyable Visit from him in 2015, I may just be willing to once again close the door on him, but not because of failure, but because of freight. Which is exactly what one ought to hope for from Mr. Shyamalan. Enter his latest thrilling endeavor. The plot takes no time in showing us 3 young ladies (played by Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Anya Taylor-Joy as our lead and socially awkward protagonist) as they are forced unconscious and kidnapped by the “more than he seems” antagonist of our film, Kevin (James McAvoy). But as you most likely know, Kevin isn’t just Kevin, rather he is a disturbed young man with 23 different personalities inside his head. And one of said individuals (a 24th in fact) requires these young ladies for a very unsavory reason…

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As is probably obvious, this is not a light-hearted film (to put it mildly). In fact, this might very well be M. Night’s most freighting film to date (in this writer’s humble opinion). Observe the setting, an eerie and dreary underground chamber. Observe the predicament, while not as heinous as it could be, is still incredibly suffocating and disturbing (plus the eminent dread and underline of sexual abuse, as well as the little clothing the ladies are required to wear for about a 3rd of the film add to this factor). Observe the man, who’s go-to “personalities” consist of a harsh nun, a sinister 9-year-old (“etcetera”), an OCD hit man of sorts, and an ominous beast on the prowl. This split man is one who, at times, is sympathetic, comical, and even relatable (depending on which personality has “the light” – A reference to who he lets own full control). But it doesn’t take a genius to know that’s how all our best cinema villains are portrayed. While the film doesn’t come across as too “horror” in its first half, this film’s slow boiler threats and harsh conclusion make for Shyamalan’s most startling film yet. Is this at all a good thing? Simply put, yes and no. Because while the film’s flaws and difficult content add up, it is perhaps his smartest and most genius go in years.

What is so harsh about this film, you ask? For one, the darkness it paints. In fact, it revels in darkness. It seeps darkness. Everywhere you turn is dark and dreary. While all horror thrillers have dark and depressing themes, this one is quite brutal. While JUST barely managing to make the PG-13 cut (though I would disagree with the MPAA still), this film’s darker points are still brutal, upsetting, and cringeworthy. As I was nearly done with the film, I was under the impression it had gone way further (in surrealism and depravity) for my own taste, but then…we hit our infamous twist…

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I’ll tell you upfront, I will to the best of my ability in NO way give the twist. But let me just say, after mulling over it for a few days, I’m under the conclusion it absolutely stitches the film together in my mind. No, the dark elements will still be troublesome, and it won’t be an ideal conclusion for some, but in my opinion, brilliance is the only word that comes to mind. Even before you hit that moment, as far as production is concerned, the film still impresses in many ways. As mentioned, the setting and tension is suffocating, as it should be. The music is appropriately nerving. The acting, is uniformly fantastic. While only Anya Taylor-Joy’s character is investigated out of the girls, all 3 give stellar performances. It should also be mentioned how refreshing it was that (for the most part) their characters didn’t fall into the frustrating horror clichés we might expect. As I mentioned, Anya was truly a marvel. It seems she has been dubbed the Horror Queen of today, and while I’d love to see her career take off elsewhere, she has given some truly incredible performances the last 2 years. But in all honesty, this is McAvoy’s world, we’re just in it. He completely kills it in every role and character he creates and demonstrates. While slightly over the top from time to time, you could easily say that about the film he is in. This may very well be his best performance yet.

Now, to sum up a few thoughts. One factor in this film that is glaringly clear is the message that the travesties we endure in life have either the power to make us or break us, the choice is ours. This seems to be the backbone for both our protagonist and antagonist. Admittedly, as the film goes on, we learn from Kevin’s example that ways we think we are benefiting our broken selves (our survival mode) isn’t always the right one. Rather the tragedies we face can sometime turn us into, well, beasts. But perhaps, not all suffering is without benefit. While I found this to be rather obvious, you may still wish to know that this goes into the realm of “spoilers’ a bit. Because what the film does on the other end of the spectrum is show us that the horrors Casey faced in life (Anya Taylor-Joy), were the very things that gave her the strength, patience, and even cunning to face this horrible situation head on. While the film mentions “light” from time to time, it really only is in regards to who Kevin decides to give his “light” (ownership) over to. In that way, it makes his darker choices and actions that much more devastating. But when thinking about Casey’s will and endurance to survive, using her own brutal life experiences, makes her that much more of a shining “light” in this dark, dark film.

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In short, this film will rightly (*ahem*) split many an audience. For some it will be too harsh, for some, to farfetched, but perhaps for others, its brilliant tension and twists (as well as a slightly masked encouraging message) will be enough to save it from its darker faces. So, in answer to the question, is he back? Well, as far as long term stays are concerned, that’s impossible to tell. But as of right now, in this dark basement and chamber, Shyamalan emerges once again (if only for now) as a king of thrills. Here’s to him showing his much grander faces from now on…

2 thoughts on “Split: Good and Bad Faces

    • Well, I do suppose that can be frustrating for individuals with schizophrenia. I can’t fully defend the plot point that Shyamalan decided to run with. All I can say is that using mental issues has been a Horror plot point for as long as Cinema has been around (starts back in the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). You can follow it through into all of movie history in fact (Psycho big time). And as I said, it’s not a fair thing to keep using (similar to Albinos or people with hooks as villains in movies), but one can hardly call Shyamalan out as being any different. And I might also caution us trying to remove it from all of movies. Because if we start saying that certain groups of people can never be projected as villains in film (which we could then say of certain races, sexes, classes, etc.) then we will slowly start finding ourselves watching unrealistic movies where only one kind of person is permitted to be evil. But that’s just my opinion (and I do understand and appreciate that Split is a larger beast than most. But in regards to that….)

      But, if we were to get into SPOILERS, and if you had seen the film, you would know this doesn’t really follow any realism in the least. It is very science fiction, pure and simple. So while I understand your concern, if you have seen it, you’d know it really isn’t a normal condition.

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