Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Movie Review: SPLIT

Split is the latest feature film from controversial director M. Night Shyamalan. This is horror-thriller about a guy with dissociative identity disorder who kidnaps three teenagers. Shyamalan writes and directs this feature for Universal and Blumhouse Productions. The film stars James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula.

I quite enjoyed Split. I don’t think it’s a perfect film. Nor do I think it’s really a great horror-thriller. It is, however, a very good one. This film has great tension, an interesting premise, and largely strong performances throughout. Shyamalan is a horror director at heart. With the exception of Unbreakable, all of his films that have landed with audiences (The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Visit) have been in the horror genre. He does it well, and he does it well here. His directorial vision is clear and effective. There are some really horrific moments in this film that work extremely well. I also think the way that he shoots all of his films is excellent. The added great work by It Follows cinematographer Mike Gioulakis made this a spectacular film to look visually with interesting cues throughout.

The premise of the film is extremely interesting. The idea of having a character with so many distinct identities that give us a person to both empathize with and to fear, depending on the situation, is really cool and kept me engaged throughout. It also generated an interesting tone. There was a constant sense of terror but there were moments that were just awkwardly funny. I don’t use the word awkward to imply improper, here. It works effectively in manipulating the emotions of the audience with makes the impact of the horror even more effective.

That premise could not work without the best thing in this film: the performances. James McAvoy is transformative in this film. He’s not just transformative from what we usually know him as. He is totally transformative within the film itself. He massively changes his facial expressions, tone of voice, gait, and just general sense of being. I was blown away by the work that he did in this film. It really was on a completely different level. Anya Taylor-Joy was also interesting though she was a fairly quiet character. I found her to be very effective at playing a resourceful character and was by far the best of the three kidnapped teens. Richardson and Sula are both ok in their roles but are in the film fairly minimally. Buckley is really great in here as well as a psychologist. She gives us a lot of the films exposition but the scenes where she is talking to McAvoy are some of the most engaging in the film because of the careful and clever game of chess the two are doing across from one another.

Split’s problems arise from its length and budget. This film overstays its welcome. It has some good and purposeful repetition of moments but there was a point at which I felt we could have cut moments and there is one entire side story I didn’t need at all that could have shaved this down to a high-octane 90 to 100-minute film. This film was also spread a tiny bit too thin. This was made for just $5 million which was a feat for how good this was. However, there were moments where I felt they were cutting around moments that could really have been strong because of the budget and I felt like they added certain contrivances that I didn’t need to work with this as well.

Overall, I found Split to be an exceedingly solid horror-thriller with a fascinating premise and a career defining performance by James McAvoy. I think it is far from perfect, however I must implore EVERYONE to see this film. As everyone going into a Shyamalan film expects, there is a bombshell somewhere in here. I won’t say anything about what that is, but I was audibly shocked and fascinated in all the best ways and it’s definitively something you want to see with an audience who doesn’t know what’s coming. Check out Split in theaters this weekend!

Ryan’s Score: 7.5/10

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