Cert: 15 / 117 mins / Dir. M Night Shyamalan / Trailer
Well, I hadn't actually planned on watching a comedy in my first #FilmDay of 2017. Then again, I'm fairly certain that James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy hadn't planned on starring in one, either. The Saturday-afternoon audience*1 laughed regularly throughout this over-ripe tale of teenage kidnap and mutilation. Not in outright derision, but not in a nervous breaking of the tension either. There was a core of people, youngsters in particular, who found the psychological torment genuinely funny. I found it hard to disagree.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Split is an abduction-thriller centered around an antagonist with 'split-personalities', written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. There, that's pretty much spoiled it for you now. Sorry about that.
While I was rather entertained by this film, it lends itself to a 'blind viewing', ie one where all the audience knows beforehand is that the film is a thriller. Because the sad and unavoidable fact is, Split would actually work far better without the plot-feeding trailers. Or the plot-feeding poster. Or M. Night Shyamalan's name being on it. For a while, his attachment to a project was a badge of assurance, a qualification. But the writer's slavish adherence to upping the cinematic ante is more of a pre-emptive stumbling block (because it's not really A Twist if the entire audience is sitting waiting for one). The further Shayamalan tries to push the envelope of credibility, the more his work becomes typical of itself and more ordinary as a result.
As is increasingly the way, the modern-day Roald Dahl presents an intricately written, solidly acted and competently directed story which manages to shoot itself in the foot with a frankly laughable third-act. The handling of abuse and abduction themes is every bit as indelicate as the film's exploration of mental illness. Although to be fair, none of this should actually be taken too seriously*2, so it's hardly an authority on delicate issues.
McAvoy probably does best out of the whole thing. His rapid-fire switching between three personas is like a reasonably impressive showreel for a performer who's already proved their worth and hasn't been asked to submit one. I have to assume young James took the gig for kicks rather than any professional advancement. Riding an ill-deserved shotgun is Anya Taylor Joy as Casey, who plays the progressively-undressed-kidnapped-teen better than the role deserves (and just a tip Anya, The VVitch" was a great breakout role, but after Morgan and now this, please have a word with your agent). The only other significant screen-time is allotted to Betty Buckley as Doctor Fletcher, a character who seems to exist solely to telegraph exactly what's going to happen for the rest of the film. Her character spends the first two acts spouting utter bollocks, then the third not believing what's happening despite being the authority on it. That's not character development so much as the narrative enemy of the entire movie. The film starts and continues in a very silly vein*3, albeit with a poker-straight face.
But for all my sniffiness, Split is quite good fun in its own disposable way, and you should at least get a laugh out of it.
I myself snorted at more than a few lines of dialogue. And I must confess that I heartily guffawed in the film's final scene, if only for how long the camera lingers on what should have been a half-second 'was that what I thought it was? punchline. Better still, the aforementioned comedy-crowd audience remained largely silent at this moment, although I suspect that's down to them being too young (despite gaining admittance to this 15-cert) to actually get the joke.
Because it's framed as a teaser, but rest assured it's more of a joke…
The director's body of work.
This is definitely one for the fans.
If you have nothing better to do on a Saturday night, sure.
It doesn't need it, though.
It achieves what the audience will require of it, if that counts?
I think I heard one buried in the final dramatic sequence, but I'm not going to watch the film again to find out so no.
Level 2: That James McAvoy's in this, and he was in X-Men: Apocalypse alongside Rose 'Dormé' Byrne and Oscar 'Dameron' Isaac.
*1 As with today's other marketer's profiling-assault, the trailers running in front of Split were for Logan, Rings, T2 Trainspotting, John Wick Chaper 2 and Get Out. Four out of those five are sequels, suggesting that Universal has relatively low expectations of Split's target-audience's expectations.
*2 Unless of course you work in the mental-health or social-care sectors, in which case you're probably already used to face-palming yourself into oblivion every time a new 'schizophrenia' movie is produced, anyway. Although credit where it's due, this movie (iirc) doesn't actually employ the S-word in its script. Although with a story as lurid as this one, it doesn't have to..
*3 Example of random stupidity: When the central character uses brute-force to escape from a bolted-shut store cupboard, the locking mechanism would splinter away from the wooden door and frame long before the metal bolt would bend - as seen in the film. Unless he also has the power to super-heat metal without setting fire to the surrounding material and the film forgot to mention that. It wouldn't surprise me, to be honest.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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