Split (2017) – Film Review

“My advice? Go into this film with an open mind. There are some pretty radical things showcased, concerning mental illness and its widespread effects, but, as I said, the filmmakers ask a lot of serious questions about what it may mean—someday—to be more than human.”

Before we begin, I have to tip my hat to the movie theatre industry—and that’s not just tooting my own company’s horn. It really is the place to go and see the cinematic arts; yes, Netflix is convenient for a day home with the flu, but it’s…not the same. Being surrounded by complete darkness, your eyes concentrated on the only light around, enveloped in sound, everyone in the same headspace and going through the same thing, even though not everyone is coming from the same cinematic background—that’s how you watch a movie. It really does have an effect on the performance of the film and the audience reaction to what’s on screen.

Split has made over $40M in its opening weekend, and is destined to expound upon its earnings in the coming weeks. As I’ll flesh out in this review, it has certainly earned the critical acclaim, as well.

It’s the actors, in large part, that ground any good film. The leads in this—James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy—are excellent. I could tell, upon watching them (separately in their own scenes, and their character chemistry), that they put their all into their respective roles. Like any great opposition flick (I won’t use “good and evil”, as those terms are relative), the antagonist is well-rounded, as the protagonist is a lesser, teetering mirror of that same inner struggle. The characters here were created to be real; what we see on-screen is all that makes them real, and it’s done very well. Flashbacks that tell Casey (Taylor-Joy)’s story, as well as visits to the psychologist that explain Kevin (McAvoy)’s struggle, are artful and leave a lot for the audience to figure on their own—a way to keep us engaged. When the end finally comes, we are left wondering; this is by no means a happy ending, but a provocative one, as it should be with a psychological thriller of this caliber.

This film asks a lot of questions. First and foremost is the true power of the human psyche, and what power still lays dormant in its vastness. What is “mental illness”? How can it be overcome? Can and should it be overcome? Is everything that we experience just a ruse, a clever disguise befallen the world that prevents us from unlocking our true, human potential? These were the ponderings discussed on my car-ride home, that I’m happy to finally see brought to light. I’m glad an acclaimed filmmaker such as Shyamalan has brought such issues to the cinematic forefront.

Split felt like a much-needed return-to-roots for the beloved director, but there are a lot of nuances that he brings to the screen in this film. Fans of M. Night Shyamalan need not be up on their filmmaker’s history in order to enjoy this piece…though, it certainly wouldn’t hurt. The setting is fairly well-contained—reduced, I’d estimate, to one or two (maybe three) tight areas. In that, it follows a very literary path in its storytelling. Emotions are conveyed through the goings-on on the screen. Backdrops are framed in such a way that stirs a conscious wonderment in the audience; several times, I felt myself leaning over to my friend to comment on the composition of a shot. Likewise, not a lot needs to be said to know what a character is thinking or intending—as it should be! The first rule of storytelling I was taught in school was, “Show, don’t tell.” For the most part, that is exemplified beautifully in this film.

The only setback is Betty Buckley’s role as the psychologist. While I was glad to see her again—can’t recall much that she has been involved with, after 2008’s The Happening—her role in this film is very underwhelming. She is, in a sense, an exposition machine; she says so much that it gives away the mystery of the story—things that, given the chance, people in the theatre would’ve been able to figure out on their own. Again: show, don’t tell!

The ending of this film is one of the other things that intrigued me. Another reviewer friend of mine told me about it, spoiler-free, and said that it’s very Shyamalan, that I would be pleased. Of course, I took this with a grain of salt and went into the show of a fairly-neutral mindset, despite my high hopes for a favorite director. That “Shyamalan Twist” did not disappoint—it’ll be one that the internet talks about indefinitely, I’m sure, once time has passed enough to let the spoilers fly free.

My advice? Go into this film with an open mind. There are some pretty radical things showcased, concerning mental illness and its widespread effects, but, as I said, the filmmakers ask a lot of serious questions about what it may mean—someday—to be more than human.

Well-shot, non-favoring in its portrayal of either “side”, and chock-full of suspense (as well as a gratuitous director cameo), Split floored me. Lovers of a good psychological thriller will be well-sated by this film, and even the non-casual audience will be entertained. I knew I’d enjoy it, but not to the degree that I did. To that end, the film gets a strong ‘Risk Assessment of *****/.

Shyamalan, knock on wood, is back.

Next review: Detour (2017)

Written by Evan Kern

Just a twenty-something filmie trudging through adulthood. Taking it day by day, movie by movie. Words are life...

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