PG-13, despite the fact that the movie is absolutely terrifying from moment one.
DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
I'm just going to get it out of the way now. SPOILERS. I have to talk about spoilers with this movie. It's a Shyamalan film, so the very nature of discourse will involve spoilers. Do you understand how hard it was to not talk about The Sixth Sense in a film class when the book constantly referenced it? It's a burden...a heavy burden that I bear.
And apparently M. Night Shyamalan remembered how to make movies again. He went through a rough patch. I feel like this is petty and spiteful, but I have to compare his directing career to Cuba Gooding Jr.'s acting career. He was a golden boy so quickly that there was no way to possibly maintain the level of quality he presented first thing. My students have all seen The Sixth Sense and the consensus is that it is mostly meh with the exception of the ending. Yeah, they may have a point, but I remember how that movie crushed. That movie had everyone scared. I thought the movie was terrifying. That was probably one of the first really solid PG-13 horror movies and I bought into it, hook-line-and-sinker. The movie was so scary. Then he had Unbreakable (more on that later) and I loved that even more...but that's only probably because I'm a dirty hipster who has a film blog that is being abandoned like a sinking ship. (My God! I'm the Shyamalan / Cuba Gooding Jr. of blogs!) Then I remember Signs coming out. Signs was a completely reasonable film, but those twists were becoming less important. Yet, he kept defining himself as the twist director. The Village had a twist that was pretty groan worthy and the world hated The Lady in the Water, a movie that I maintain was pretty solid. But I even refuse to watch that movie again in fear that I was absolutely insane and it was just the moment that convinced me that it was good. But that's when things got really bad. There was just a string of movies that were just awful. I mean, I gave a few of them a chance, but these movies were borderline unwatchable. The Happening was so disappointing. I just saw this director become desperate for another hit like The Sixth Sense. The acting was gone and this guy who had this vision just disappeared. (By the way, I'm also despondent because Weebly just deleted most of this article and I'm trying to recreated it from the point it last saved. The horror!) It was only with The Visit that there was a change in personality. M. Night Shyamalan made a fairly scary found footage movie. That's a tall order into today's film climate. Then this movie showed a movie that I hadn't seen in a while. I saw the hungry filmmaker who knew how to handle the camera. He knew how to make the movie suspenseful while forcing me to ask questions. He respected me enough to not spoon feed me information hand over fist. The movie felt personal again and I loved that. He stopped trying to be Alfred Hitchcock and he just became this awesome filmmaker again. Hitchcock never tried to be the mythical Hitchcock. He was an innovator and he always tried making the best movie he could. Yes, Hitchcock was the Master of Suspense, but he was a personal guy too. He liked dark humor and he would occasionally go off book and make odd movies. He made a romantic comedy named Mr. & Mrs. Smith, not associated with the spy comedy with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Sure, the movie bombed, but I never got the vibe that it really crushed him. The second that Shyamalan stopped trying to be the Shyamalan known for his twists and gimmicks, the movie got good again.
This is McAvoy's movie. Yes, there is a gimmick, but McAvoy uses this gimmick to the best of his ability. I think it would be easy to write this movie off as an acting exercise, swapping between very different character personalities. McAvoy embraces this and really builds these characters as very different people. The movie is great, objectively. But this might have a bit of staying power because of McAvoy's performance. I get the vibe that most people acknowledge that McAvoy is extremely talented, but I don't know if he's ever been accepted into those upper echelons of acting. You know? The William H. Macies or the Phillip Seymour Hoffmans. Maybe if we had insight into his middle name, he'd be there. But he honestly has the chops. What makes these characters work is not just in the major choices that he makes, but it is in the stuff that the camera doesn't focus on. I really want to know who made what choice for the characters. Regardless, I'm going to give the points to McAvoy because he executes these moments flawlessly. I think my favorite personality is Miss Patricia. There are so many layers to this character that I have to applaud. Shyamalan wrote this character as someone who is always in control of her situation. She is angry, but she doesn't let herself lose control of the situation. That's somewhat in the script. There's a moment when Patricia is cutting a sandwich and it isn't straight. We see underneath her persona and the dominance that she exudes over the situation. But McAvoy took this character and added so much nuance. The camera doesn't focus on these moments. They are personal. A man playing a woman in a man's body has to be complicated. The temptation to play the part as a stereotype with broad actions has to be ever-present, but McAvoy takes the part the other way. Patricia is in her subtlety. She is modest and ashamed of her body. The adjusts her shawl to cover herself around the other women. She hates the girls, yet sympathizes with them. When things go poorly for the characters, she doesn't get scared. She handles it. She is used to taking care of Kevin's mistakes and knows when to get help. These are all choices. McAvoy gives the same attention to Hedwig. My wife said that no nine-year-old acts like Hedwig. I thought about that. Hedwig didn't act like a nine-year-old because he's a nine-year-old that has no parents. He is given treats in exchange of cooperation. He is a bit neurotic and that's portrayed with McAvoy's small choices. It also kind of reflects that Hedwig isn't a nine-year-old. He's how an adult would view a nine-year-old. The fear and wonder in that kid's eyes seem very real. So, he's not a nine-year-old like we know nine-year-olds. He's a nine-year-old with a wealth of baggage attached. How cool is that?
This is becoming the review that has taken three days to write. Thanks a lot, computer, for your active attempts at sabotaging this review. This movie was spoiled for me. It was spoiled for me by clickbait that pretended like it was trying to keep a secret. Here's the clickbait title: "Did anybody know that Split was a [redacted] sequel?" Shut up. I hate you so much. Because I instantly figured out that "redacted" meant Unbreakable. Why, clickbait? Why? I click you from time to time. I thought we were buddies. Now I knew I was going into an Unbreakable sequel. Like I established, I'm one of the Unbreakable hipsters out there. I liked it before it was cool. I was jazzed to see this as a secret sequel. But that kind of ruined a bit of the movie for me. Split is so good of a movie on its own. Watching the film wondering how to get Bruce Willie or Sammie Jackson in this movie kind of pulled me out. I kept thinking, "This is where he's going to come in." Instead, they got Bruce Willie to come in Iron Man 1 style and just establish that there is a larger universe. (By the way, missed opportunity with not having Sam Jackson saying "I. Am. The Beast.") It feels like a cheap add on. Sure, I'm really excited for an Unbreakable sequel and that there's going to be another movie tying both together, but it kind of cheapens the movie as a whole. Sure, I wouldn't have known that had it not been for the evil clickbait article title, but I really liked Split. It has really solid legs to it and it was one Shyamalan's best movies. It's scary and interesting. I kept trying to figure out the puzzle and my wife really dug it. It really is the whole package, so why bother pigeonholing it as a sequel to one of this other movies? I know that there are pros and cons to both, but sometimes I just want a movie to be a movie. Not everything has to be a cinematic universe.
One of the cooler things about this movie that I forgot about is establishing why characters make certain choices. The movie starts with the haunting kidnapping of these girls. Because I was at home, I yelled at the screen for the girl to run. Why wasn't she running? She should be running. Lots of movies establish that people freeze in certain situations and, from what little exposure I have to this, I understand that this happens in real life too. Okay, so I wrote it off as just another person freezing in a terrifying situation. However --and without spelling it out for me --Shyamalan gives us this phenomenal B-story explaining Casey's choices. It is a heavy handed storyline that didn't feel heavy-handed. These flashbacks throughout the story turned the narrative from simply an escape thriller to a look at to what makes someone a victim. These flashes give just enough of the story. Casey also becomes a fuller person because of these moments. The other two girls don't really have the advantage of being round characters because they don't have the backstory there. The other girls kind of come off as cannon fodder because of their lack of story. I still had moments where I wondered why the three of them didn't work to overpower their attacker, but I can kind of get why they didn't. The situation seemed pretty hopeless all throughout. There are a series of blockades stopping the girls from escaping. Again, talking about spoilers, but I don't know what the location of the Philadelphia Zoo had to do with the rest of the movie. I guess the tie to the Beast might have had something, but it seemed a bit strained. Still, Casey's character was really brilliantly built. She made such strong choices that were reserved. She seemed passive to Kevin, but a leader within the group despite the fact that she was an outcast.
There's one moment in the movie that didn't really ring true for me and I saw it coming. The movie rides the fine line between being grounded in reality and embracing a supernatural element. I knew that it was going to embrace the supernatural. The movie just planted so many breadcrumbs leading to the fact that something outside of reality was going to happen. It also foreshadows the resolution to the movie way too hard. I knew exactly the image I was going to see, and --surprise, surprise --it happened just like I knew it would. I guess the movie needed it, but I would have loved to see that the supernatural hints would have all been garbage and that Kevin was simply a disturbed individual. Bee-tee-dubs, I can't imagine the D.I.D. community would have been a fan of this movie. I don't know if I'm imagining reading an article about it or not, but it does paint people with Dissociate Identity Disorder as criminal psychopaths. I know that the story is pretty cool and I wanted to see it, but it does have to be kind of a bummer to be depicted in that manner.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.