117 min., 2016
Written by M. Night Shyamalan
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
My rating: ★★★★★
A wonderfully woven story
* * *
It’s easy to write off M. Night Shyamalan. THE SIXTH SENSE proves that he’s a great storyteller, but he writes stories good for only two viewings (one to be surprised, one to see what you missed the first time). SIGNS proves that he can write movingly about one man’s struggle with his faith, but Shyamalan lacks a sense of the obvious. LADY IN THE WATER proves . . . well, it proves how arrogant and vindictive he can feel toward critics. THE HAPPENING proved that he’s also capable of writing really shitty stories.
SPLIT is the best thing he’s done since UNBREAKABLE. It’s the story of three very young girls who are kidnapped by a man with split personalities and some very interesting ideas of what he can do with his body.
People forget that Shyamalan can be clever. He can be creepy. His ability to keep the camera still is a lost art these days. His attention to detail this time out is absolutely meticulous. Everything is planned so well and woven together with care. You see a detail and wonder if it was intentional and what it might mean, and you get your answer a few scenes later, but Shyamalan is smart enough to not draw too much attention to it. He’s not holding anyone’s hand with this one. Either you get it or don’t. That’s a wonderful quality.
Most moviegoers know him as the twist guy. Every movie’s gotta have a twist, right? Well, almost every one of them. He restrains himself and doesn’t fall back on ol’ reliable this time. You try to outthink him at every turn, and then . . . nothing. He probably did that deliberately. You fell into his trap. There is no twist. Which instantly means that this movie has rewatchability.
James McAvoy is amazing in this movie. He puts everything he’s got into playing a half-dozen characters in the same body. In a few scenes he actually plays one character pretending to be another! This is a dream role for an actor, much like Scott Bakula in QUANTUM LEAP. Every week he got to be someone different. McAvoy, on the other hand, gets to be someone different in every scene.
And then there is Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Casey, the main character. You find yourself wondering how she knows certain things. How she can remain so calm. How she can think her way through this horrible situation. You get your answer in a series of flashbacks. Ordinarily flashbacks are kind of lazy. Shyamalan uses these very cleverly to slowly reveal the horrible shit Casey has gone through. She’s reminiscent of Tulip from PREACHER but if something had gone really bad in her childhood.
The less said about John, the better. But he is perfectly played by Brad William Henke.
The less said from here on out, the better. Suffice it to say, this is a great movie. You should see it. Don’t let Shyamalan’s reputation hold you back.
Now if you’re interested in a bit of talk about some spoilers, stick around . . .
The ending might seem like a bit of a letdown. There is no resolution. Casey escapes because Kevin and all the people who live in his head let her go when they view that she is damaged goods and thus is superior to everyone else. She gets help from the cops, and then they hand her back to her pedophile Uncle John, who is her guardian. There’s something to be said about that horrible situation.
But then Kevin & Co. have this monologue. At first I thought it was stupid. What the fuck is with this unneeded exposition, but then it slowly dawned on me. THIS IS A SUPERVILLAIN MONOLOGUE. What if . . . WHAT IF HE’S GOING TO BE A SUPERVILLAIN IN THE WORLD OF UNBREAKABLE?! Is it too much to ask?
No, it isn’t. Fast forward to the final scene in the movie. The camera pans through a diner full of customers listening to a news story about Casey’s abduction, and I hoped beyond hope that I would see Bruce Willis sitting at one of those tables. Someone makes a mention of Samuel L. Jackson’s character from UNBREAKABLE! Yes! AND THERE’S BRUCE WILLIS! OH MY GOD THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING! SHYAMALAN IS GOING TO DO A SEQUEL TO UNBREAKABLE!
This makes me very happy. To quote a great man quoting a great man, “I have an erection.”
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