This review contains MAJOR SPOILERS! Watch the movie then come back and read this.
Once upon a time, there was a man named M. Night Shyamalan. He made great movies. The Sixth Sense is one of my favourite films of all time. Unbreakable is one of the best superhero films of all time. And Signs, though not as good as its predecessors, is one of the more intriguing Sci-Fi movies of the modern era.
One day, Shyamalan got kidnapped by alien zombies and was replaced by his retarded evil twin. This has to be a true story, or at least an exaggeration of the truth, because how else does one go from being “the next Spielberg” to “worse than dog shit” in 0.3 seconds?Seriously, films like The Happening and Lady in the Water are terrible enough, but then he goes on to make The Last Airbender and After Earth? The former butchers one of the best animated series of all time, while the latter is the by-product of Will Smith sucking Shyamalan’s dick saying, “I know he’s a terrible piece of shit, but please give my son a job.”
In 2015, Shyamalan made The Visit – a small movie that wasn’t all that great, but it did hint at a return to form for the has-been. Fast forward a couple of years, and here we are. Split follows three girls – social outcast, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), and regular teens Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), who at the very beginning of the film are kidnapped by Dennis (James McAvoy). And, right off the bat we learn two things. One, Anya-Taylor Joy is the real deal; Two, M. Night Shyamalan is back in the game.
The kidnapping scene that takes place in a car, is classic Shyamalan magic. He puts the audience in the car with the girls and allows it to play out. He doesn’t randomly cut between characters, and he doesn’t immediately show us the kidnapper, who at this point, without the girls realising, has entered the vehicle. There are drawn out shots focusing on the girls’ reactions, specifically Casey.
Shyamalan isn’t interested in speeding things up. The tension builds slowly, but realistically. Casey doesn’t shout, nor scream for help. The incident has rendered her speechless, as it would anyone in this situation. She’s shocked, overwhelmed by fear, yet she’s holding back her tears, trying to be brave and figure out how to escape, unharmed. Yes, I got all that, without her uttering a single line of dialogue. Anya Taylor-Joy is fantastic.
The next scene takes place in a room, located in a warehouse of sorts. And this is where the story really kicks off. My initial thought was, Split seems like your average claustrophobic thriller. Three girls are stuck in a shit hole and must now try and escape the clutches of a psychotic serial killer. Oh, how very wrong I turned out to be. Split is interesting. And, I’m not just talking about the multiple personality disorder aspect of McAvoy’s character. This movie is (surprisingly) much deeper than that.
In one scene, Dennis tries to assault Marcia. Casey – who is composed – tells her, “pee in your pants!” That’s a weird thing to say, is it not? Isn’t it more common to say, “scratch his eyes,” or “kick his balls?” Or perhaps just scream and start crying for help? Whatever the case, it works. Dennis is disgusted by Marcia wetting herself. He drops her and leaves the room in anger. And you can’t help but wonder, how does Casey know about that technique?
In a series of flashbacks, layers are peeled. We’re first shown that even as a young kid – probably 5 years old – Casey went on hunting trips with her dad and her uncle. And my next thought was, I guess she’s some tough hunter weirdo chick who knows some survival techniques. But still, peeing yourself to prevent sexual assault seems a little too specific. Only, as the movie progresses, and we witness more flashbacks, do we realize the shocking truth behind Casey’s past. In perhaps the most gut-wrenching scene of the film, we’re shown Casey’s uncle sexually grooming her. “Let’s play animals,” he tells her. It is very very uncomfortable to watch. In another flashback, we learn that Casey’s father had passed away and her uncle has been taking care of her since she was a kid. Your heart sinks. Nothing is shown explicitly, but the realization of the abuse that Casey has most likely gone through up until this point, is unfathomable.
These series of flashbacks do not happen in quick succession. Shyamalan trusts his audience not to leave the cinema or pause your Blu-Ray to go for a smoke. He isn’t afraid to take his time and tell the story. It is evident that he truly believes that the unfolding events aren’t boring. He’s right. And he rewards us for being patient with him. With each passing minute, I came to a realization that the movie isn’t so much about the three girls trying to escape a terrible situation, but rather, about two characters who are at opposite ends of a same spectrum.
James McAvoy’s character, whose birth name is Kevin, was also abused as a kid. However, unlike Casey, who grew up to be a tough, albeit reserved teenager, Kevin could not quite cope on his own. Thus, birthing his various personalities that not only protect him, but helped him get through his troubled childhood. That’s right, Kevin has a multiple personality disorder.
In his best performance to date, McAvoy shows a shit ton of range, bringing nine out of Kevin’s 23 personalities to life. My favourite of which, is Hedwig, an innocent 9-year-old kid. In one scene, Hedwig dances to Frogbass by Snails. It’s kinda crazy, very funny but also quite disturbing. The look on Casey’s face says it all. She doesn’t get what’s going on. Neither did I.
The chemistry between Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy is RIDICULOUS! Like Davydova & Yermakova, in synchronised swimming or the greatest pro-wrestling match of all time between Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage The Undertaker VS Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 25, they play off each other to perfection.
There is one personality that McAvoy plays which I do not like at all, though. It has nothing to do with McAvoy’s performance, but rather, Shyamalan’s writing. Throughout the movie, we’re teased with this idea of a character, simply known as The Beast. This Beast personality of Kevin’s is pretty much supposed to be the ultimate big baddie of this movie. Sounds interesting enough. Except, when it actually happens, it sucks.
There are elements of The Beast, that I like. I like that he’s unnaturally strong. I also like the fact that he sees himself as the “angel of death,” in which he judges people and decides whether or not they deserve to live. But everything else about The Beast just felt out of place and it took me out of the film. In one scene, he gets into an empty train and then TRANSFORMS into The Beast. In another scene, he’s climbing on walls like he’s Spiderman’s bastard child. It’s too comical and fantastical for a movie that prior to this, has been grounded in reality.
But then, something happens right at the very end. Something insane. Or as I’d like to call it:
THE BEST KEPT SECRET IN CINEMA HISTORY!!!
We’re in a café, where the news is playing on the TV.
News reporter : There’s a serial killer (referring to Kevin) at large, which reminds us of the mass killings that happened many years ago.
Cafe customers : Oh yeah, what was his name again?
It’s motherfucking BRUCE WILLIS, wearing a name tag that reads: Dunn.
HOLY SHIT! No way! No way! No way!
Bruce Willis: Mr. Glass.
*CUT TO CREDITS*
That moment when you realise you’ve been watching the sequel to Unbreakable without knowing that you’ve been watching the sequel to Unbreakable. I lost my freaking mind!
Now, this changes things. After that reveal, what was initially thought to be a movie grounded in reality, isn’t anymore. Unbreakable is a superhero movie, and in the Unbreakable universe, people with supernatural abilities, do exist. Just like Marvel’s Luke Cage, Bruce Willis’s Mr Dunn is strong and cannot get injured. He’s literally, unbreakable. Split is a super-villain origin story. *slow claps*
At the end of the day though, I still feel that The Beast character could have been handled slightly better. Make him strong, make him bullet proof. But does he need to go to a subway station, enter an empty train and transform in an over the top manner? Fuck no.
In an age where studios can’t help but shove plot points into trailers, in the name of box office numbers, the fact that everyone kept the reveal a secret, is a win in and of itself. It’s amazing that Blumhouse Studios refrained themselves from marketing this film as a sequel to Unbreakable. Whether it involves our favourite sports team, an athlete, a pro-wrestler or a character in a movie, we all love a good comeback story. My God what a comeback story this has been for the man who helmed The Sixth Sense. M. Night Shyamalan is back. And I can’t wait to see what he does with Unbreakable 3.
Side note: That’s my second highest rating.
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