“… intense from start to finish and manages to be legitimately good despite M. Night Shyamalan’s track record.”
Right off the bat I’m going to say that this review will be spoiling every single aspect of Split. I’m sure most of you have had the chance to see this movie already, but if you haven’t (and like thrillers) then do it.
Split is a movie that I’ve been meaning to see since its release, the only barrier to entry was that it was written/directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Now I don’t hate Shyamalan’s work as much as everyone else seemingly does, but his newer stuff is not what I would call “worth the price of admission”. These movies are generally saved for a Netflix release or maybe if I catch them on cable on a rainy day. But when Split came out, everyone was saying the same thing: “Go see it; it’s not the same Shyamalan that we’re used too”. Now this buzz would have gotten anyone like me into the theatre, but I couldn’t help but get deja vu; see, Shyamalan’s last film, The Visit, is a movie that everyone said the exact same things about. “Shyamalan is back baby!” “The king of horror has returned!” and all of that jazz. But what happened a few months after the release of The Visit? The reaction was a little more of what I am used to with Shyamalan movies. “It was okay, I guess” “The twist was stupid” “This movie is shit”. So naturally I expected the same turn from the audience a few months after Split was released. Time went on and I somehow managed to avoid all spoilers for the movie, and the criticisms never came. This was a double-edged sword because not only was a proven wrong, but this also meant that I completely forgot about the movie until recently.
The other day I watched Unbreakable, and while writing my review I kept coming up with the same articles on Google. “How ‘Split’ connects into Unbreakable, and upcoming sequel ‘Glass’”. “Holy shit,” I said to myself “Split is in the same universe as Unbreakable?! That’s awesome!” So this, naturally, rocketed Split up to “priority viewing” for me. Now the bulk of this review is going to consist of my thoughts on the way that Split connects into Unbreakable, but before we do that let’s get all of the other stuff out of the way.
Split is a movie that managed to surprise me constantly. Let’s start with the more obvious stuff first. Split was directed by M. Night Shyamalan (director of such films as The Happening, The Last Airbender, The Visit, and Lady in the Water, but also of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and the Village). As you can see there are some good ones in there, but also some stinkers (and unfortunately the good ones are few and far between). The first way Split Surprised me is that it proved that it is one of the good ones. Shyamalan is back, baby! Not only was the script writing really great in Split, but the direction was great as well. The only thing I can hold against the script was some of the stuff toward the end (like the whole ‘unbreakable skin’ thing), and some of the “Uncle Touch-Me-Funny” shit. Now don’t get me wrong, I really liked the way that the uncle bits were done, but it was right on the line where it was almost too much. Not too much in a way where I would want to die rather than watch another second, but too much as in “we get it, he’s a sick bastard”. Luckily the film didn’t stray into that territory, but it got close enough that I had to mention it. I will say that it was an interesting choice to essentially have one character be the victim twice, but it’s not a choice that I’m opposed to it’s just something that I haven’t seen before. The directing, on the other hand, was perfect. The way that Shyamalan managed to make the space feel small and big simultaneously was amazing. I also really liked the POV shots that were used at certain points throughout the film. But I can’t mention direction without mentioning editing, because in my opinion the two go hand-in-hand. The editing in Split is nothing short of brilliant. The way that you get sucked into the movie is because everything is face-paced, but it still manages to linger on shit enough for it to get creepy. I really enjoyed the face-paced editing in a lot of scenes to build tension and even though I noticed them, they were pretty seamless. I also really liked the score in the movie, but there is only one part that stood out to me which was a beautiful, haunting arrangement of deep string instruments. It was great. Going quickly back to the writing, I also really liked how the characters (or more specifically, character) weren’t completely incompetent. Sure they were getting the (proverbial) shit kicked out of them, but they kept fighting instead of just taking it. Moving on, the next thing that surprised me about Split was the performances. Now I’m going to start small by saying Any Taylor-Joy fucking nailed it. She would have absolutely stole the show if not for someone else who I’ll discuss later. Taylor-Joy plays the “strong victim”; she’s in a situation that sucks, but she never gives up an opportunity to free herself. I also thought the other girls did a good job, but they weren’t in the movie as much so I don’t have a whole lot to say about them. I did really like Betty Buckley’s performance as the psychiatrist, I felt she did a great job conveying this sense of fear, but at the same time masking it so as not to appear weak. And finally the one who stole the show: Mr Shyamalan himself. Neve before have I believed that someone actually liked Hooters chicken wings, but Shyamalan changed that for me. But in all seriousness James McAvoy absolutely stole the show. His ability to change from one “character” to another was absolutely mind-blowing. Each character had their own way about them, and McAvoy disappeared into each individual role. The most impressive scenes in my opinion are the ones where he is changing on the fly, because that requires so much skill to not only act well, but also keep a bunch of character straight in your head.
Now that all of that shit is out of the way, let’s talk about what I really want to talk about. So like I said, when I looked up Unbreakable to write my review, I found a lot of articles mentioning that Split was connected to Unbreakable. Immediately my mind started to race: “Was there a character with split personalities in Unbreakable?” “Is Bruce Willis going to save the girls at the end?” followed immediately by “ No, if Bruce Willis was in this movie it would have been a bigger deal”. Then I slipped up. When you Google Unbreakable, there is now a link that leads you to the “Unbreakable Series”, where you can see all of the movies in the franchise. When I clicked this link I saw that the “series” consists of Unbreakable, Split, and the yet to be real eased “Glass”. But what I also saw was a list of recurring characters, one of them being the “Orange Suit Man”. “Well shit,” I thought to myself, “that’s the twist. James McAvoy is going to be the creepy guy from Unbreakable who ties up women and then spits beer at them”. This was disappointing that I had figured it out, but I was also happy at how cool that would be. “But wait, the timelines don’t match up. It would make more sense if James McAvoy’s character was the little boy who was tied up by the Orange Suit Man. Yeah, now he’s all fucked up because he experienced something really traumatic when he was young”. Once again, I thought I had it all figured out. So a few days later I turned on Split, and I waited. I waited and waited until finally it happened. The movie ends, and we are taken to a diner. All of the customers are sitting in their respective seats watching the news where it is being reported that the three missing girls had been taken by a man with split personality disorder. One patron bravely says “This is just like that crazy guy who blew up the train. What did they call him?”, and then the camera pans over to reveal Bruce Willis sitting at the counter in a security shirt that says “Dunn” and he solemnly says “Mr. Glass”; and then the movie cuts to black. WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT SHIT?! Instead of connecting this movie to Unbreakable you essentially gave us a fucking Marvel post-credits scene, but there’s one difference Shyamalan: people actually like Marvel movies! What a fucking bullshit way to connect your movie to another one of your movies. And what a fucking stupid scene too. That dumb fuck says “Wow, it’s just like the guy who blew up a train” HOW?! How is a guy with split-personality disorder kidnapping three girls anything like a deranged cripple who likes to blow shit up in an attempt to find a superhero? I like to imagine that after every single M. Night Shyamalan movie there is always one character who makes the same comment. I can picture it now: it’s a packed subway train, a single television is holding everyone’s attention. On it a news anchor reads “…that’s right folks, a group of people have been found living in the woods. Sources say that they just got fed up with dealing with shit, so they moved into the middle of the woods. How crazy is that?”. And then some asshole speaks up with “Wow, that’s just like the crazy dude who blew up the train. What was his name again?”, at which point Bruce Willis will say “Mr. Glass”. God, what a fucking stupid decision. If the movie wasn’t so good already, this honestly would have ruined it for me. And if these movies are connected, then does that mean M. Night Shyamalan is always playing the same character? If so he’s had one hell of a career path. If you just count Unbreakable and Split he went from being a football stadium drug dealer to an apartment building security guard. If you count all of the other movie (which I totally do) then you can throw in the fact that he was also a park ranger, a doctor, a dude who killed Mel Gibson’s wife, and a shitty writer (but let’s be honest, he plays that part in every movie). God damn, if this scene was Shyamalan’s decision (which it most definitely was), then I guess he’s not exactly out of his “slump”.
Overall Split is a great movie. It is intense from start to finish and manages to be legitimately good despite M. Night Shyamalan’s track record. It has wonderful performances, a great score, and wonder direction and editing. The only thing I don’t like about this movie is the fucking stupid ending scene. Apart from that, if you’re looking for a good thriller then look no further.
I give Split an A