Friday, February 10, 2017
Split Review (SPOILERS)
Yes, spoiler review means I'm going to dive deep into the ending of the movie. And this is not a movie you want spoiled for you if you haven't seen it already. M. Night Shyamalan is good at his twist endings when he's on the top of his game and it's always the best cinematic experience when you go in without any idea of how things are going to turn out. So I give you one last warning. If you haven't seen "Split," close this review right now and go see it. Then return to this review and see what I had to say. And make sure you've seen Shyamalan's other movies, too, because there's another one of his that I have to spoil for this review, but I won't reveal which one it is at this point. If you are still here at this point of the review, I'm going to assume that you already saw "Split" or you simply don't care about spoilers and thus I will talk openly about the movie. So here we go. First, we briefly need to address this man named M. Night Shyamalan. He roared onto the scene in 1999 with "The Sixth Sense," following that up with two more major successes in "Ubreakable" and "Signs." Suddenly he was being proclaimed as the next Steven Spielberg. Fast forward 10 years and all of a sudden he went from the next Steven Spielberg to Hollywood's biggest punchline. Ouch. What happened?
Well, I'm not sure exactly what went on in his head following those first three movies or what his mindset was as a director, but after "Signs" came "The Village," which was followed by "Lady in the Water," "The Happening," "The Last Airbender" and "After Earth" in that order. Yikes. Especially with those last two. "The Last Airbender" was a complete and utter disgrace to one of the most popular animated TV shows ever and is quite frankly one of the worst movies ever made, which fans of the show "Avatar: The Last Airbender" will never forget. It's the "Avatar" version of "Dragonball: Evolution." And "After Earth" was so bad and so poorly directed that it made Will Smith look dull and may have ruined his son's acting career as Jaden still hasn't been cast in another movie. At this point of Shyamalan's career, he was a hated man. When you have hit rock bottom so hard, it might be easy to give up and throw in the towel. Spending 10 long years trying to create enjoyable content only to have it constantly beat to the ground I imagine is frustrating. It caused George Lucas, a once beloved director, to sell "Star Wars" and give up on directing movies. It takes guts for Shyamalan to press forward. But he did just that and thankfully the Shyamalan we used to love has returned.
Shyamalan's return began in 2015 with "The Visit," which was a very smart, intense thriller that successfully took advantage of the dying sub-genre of found footage, which for the most part has turned into a cheap gimmick. "The Visit" wasn't phenomenal or mind-blowing, but it was a good sign that Shyamalan might be back. However, one good movie after a long string of duds doesn't guarantee that you're back. In theory, "The Visit" could've been a fluke. But following up "The Visit" with "Split," which is a great movie, I think is a good sign that Shyamalan is back, which makes me happy. I never cheer for someone to fail, especially when they like making movies in my favorite genre. As I said, some people early on called Shyamalan the next Steven Spielberg. I think a better comparison is that he had or has the potential of becoming the next Alfred Hitchcock, because while Spielberg does all sorts of different genres, both Shyamalan and Hitchcock love the thriller genre. Obviously Shyamalan has to come up with at least a decade or two of solid thrillers before we actually call him the next Hitchcock, especially after he gave us a decade of duds, but that's why I use the word "potential." I also bring up Hitchcock for a very important reason as "Split" compares favorable to "Psycho."
I still remember the first time I watched "Psycho." It was back in 2011 or 2012, I think, so not too long ago. Since then, I have watched just about every Hitchcock movie as "Pyscho" got me addicted to Hitchcock. I won't spoil the ending, but the shock value that hit me when the big secret of the movie was revealed left me beyond stunned. Heading into the movie I had no idea what was going to happen. The only thing I really knew about the movie was the famous score as well as the fact that there was a famous shower scene. But that's it. I'm so glad I was able to have that experience of going in completely blind because that ending still stands as my favorite moment watching a movie and every time I have watched it since, it just gets more and more fascinating as I am able to dive deeper and deeper into this character of Norman Bates as I pick up on more things about him. After seeing "Split" twice now and taking a week or so to think over it after both viewings, I'm happy to reveal to you that I've had a similar experience with the movie "Split" that I've had with "Psycho," which is why I'm glad that I've waited three weeks to give you my review instead of throwing out a quick review the second I first saw the movie. I wouldn't have been able to do the movie justice that way.
Jumping straight to the ending of "Split," I actually had a different experience than when I first watch "Psycho." My friend sitting next to me had a "Psycho" type of experience as he was completely shocked and blown away. My reaction was more of a "Crap, I didn't do my homework and now I've missed something." I immediately knew that the final scene in "Split" connects it to another one of Shyamalan's early movies, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I have not seen all of Shyamalan's early films. I won't admit all of his movies that I haven't seen, but "Unbreakable" was on that list. My friend quickly informed me that it was "Unbreakable" that "Split" has connected to, which in turn has shocked the "Unbreakable" fan base. So I repented of that great sin of not seeing "Unbreakable" and suddenly everything made sense. Then after watching "Ubreakable," I went to see "Split" a second time and everything made even more sense. I was able to pick up on all the little details that I missed the first time around. Once you know the two universes are the same, watching "Split" a second time is a much different experience. If you are like me and you have seen "Split," but not "Unbreakable," do what I did and go watch that. Then come back and finish this review because I also need to spoil that movie in order to explain why the end of "Split" works.
When push comes to shove, the best way to describe the movie "Split" is that it's the origin story of an insanely awesome super villain. The idea of what makes a good villain has been on my mind a lot lately, mostly because Marvel keeps dropping the ball when it comes to their villains. In my opinion there has to be more to a villain than being scary looking, powerful, or having an ominous voice. The biggest thing that makes or breaks a villain, in my opinion, is motivation. Why are they doing what they are doing? Are they trying to take over the world just for the sake of taking over the world? Are they attacking our hero simply because the hero needs someone to fight? Or do they have a good reason for what they are doing? Do their motivations make sense? Are they actions that a real human being might take if put into that situation? One of the reasons why I love the TV show "Criminal Minds" is that they dive into the psychology behind why serial killers do what they do and many of their cases are based on or are inspired by actual serial killers, which is fascinating. And if we can blur the line between villain and anti-hero, that's even better. If we end up cheering for or feeling bad for our villain, that's even better. We may not agree with their decisions, but if we know why they made them, then that enhances the experience with the show or the movie.
One final example and this is going to tie in perfectly to what I'm about to dive into with my thoughts on Kevin in "Split." Norman Bates in "Psycho." Again, I won't spoil "Psycho," but due to a certain backstory, Norman Bates, who always had psychological issues to begin with, developed DID after a certain traumatic event in his life. Norman himself is a nice guy who you really come to like in the first part of the movie, despite some major character flaws. But when certain things happen, a trigger goes off in his mind where his other personality takes over and does things that Norman is not even aware of. He's obviously a villain that you want stopped, but at the same time you really feel for him as a character, especially given all that he's been through. When we're talking about best movie villain ever, it's Norman Bates hands down. So to formulate Kevin in "Split" after Norman Bates in "Psycho" is brilliant. Now for the record, since I've made a lot of "Psycho" comparisons, let me make it absolutely clear that this is not as good as "Psycho." Not even close. But there are a lot of fascinating parallels in both movies that make "Split" one of the better modern-day Hitchcockian thrillers made.
"Split" is essentially "Psycho" on steroids. Instead of two personalities like Norman Bates, Kevin has 23 personalities in addition to his own. The simplicity of just two personalities is one of the many things that makes "Psycho" perfect, but the 23 personalities is a lot of fun to watch and James McAvoy as Kevin and his 23 personalities is one of the best acting performances that I may have ever seen. While we don't get a ton of backstory on Kevin's childhood, we are given enough to have a solid understanding as to why everything is happening. As a young child, he lived with a crazy mother (more "Psycho" parallels) who terrified him. We don't know everything that she did to him, and perhaps that's a good thing, but we do know that there's one point where he's hiding under his bed and she's yelling to him. "Kevin Wendell Crumb!" Whatever she did, it was traumatic enough for him to develop multiple personalities that are there to protect Kevin. Then throughout his life we know that other things happen to him, like him being sexually abused by some high school girls, that made things a whole heck of a lot worse. Thus he's gone through so much traumatic experiences in his life that as an adult, Kevin's personalities have completely taken over and they have some crazy things in store.
That's the basic setup that we learn throughout the movie. Our main three personalities that take over are Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig, who in turn feel ostracized from the rest of the 20. When personalities like Barry, Orwell and Jade take over, they are trying to emphasize that the other three are not representative of what they all stand for. And in the brief moment where Kevin himself takes over and realizes that it's now three or four years into the future from when he last remembered, he feels devastated and tells our main girl to take his shotgun and kill him so that the personalities that are taking over don't continue to do awful things. This is an extremely tragic situation where Kevin and 20 other of his personalities are victims to Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig, who in turn have solid motivations for why they are doing what they are doing. Even though you want them stopped, you really feel for Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig, especially Hedwig since he's only a young 9-year-old boy. Because of everything that's happened, they have chosen to bring out "The Beast," which is basically an inhuman, 24th personality that is invincible. He can't be shot. He can't be killed. He is huge. He is fast. He can climb on walls. You don't agree with the decision these three have made to bring out The Beast, but all things considered, you understand why they have done this.
With this movie being the origin story of a super villain, it hits all the correct notes as to what makes a perfect villain. The Beast is terrifying. He is ominous. He has a crazy, intimidating voice. And his motivations are perfect. He has decided to hunt down the people who he calls the impure. In his mind, those people are the people that have essentially lived perfect, spoiled lives. He claims the broken are stronger and better because what they have gone through. Being that he is someone who is very broken and his been abused in most likely many different ways, you can understand why he decides to go after the people who remind him of the perpetrators or people that have not experienced this level of pain in their lives. It's not just a bad guy hunting the good guys for the heck of it. It's a man who has been hurt and abused his whole life and is taking out on people who remind him of the people who have done this to him. And he's brought out by three personalities that feel ostracized and hated by the others. Yet being that this is all one person who has gone through a traumatic life, you really feel bad for Kevin and the other 20 personalities that have no desire to hurt people. He's the perfect villain and it's the perfect super villain backstory.
That in turn brings up an interesting point. In "Unbreakable," Samuel L. Jackson plays a character called Mr. Glass who literally and physically gets broken easily. Bruce Willis can't get hurt. Samuel L. Jackson's bones are super fragile and spends most of his life in a hospital recovering, where he becomes obsessed with comic books. He concludes that the perfect arch-nemesis to a hero in a comic book is one that is the exact opposite of the hero. Since Bruce Willis can never be hurt, but Samuel L. Jackson spends half of his life in a hospital or wheelchair, Samuel L. Jackson concludes that he is Bruce Willis' perfect arch-nemesis, then reveals what he has done. To which Bruce Willis then calls the cops and gets him thrown in prison. Not much of an arch-nemesis if you ask me. But as it turns out, Samuel L. Jackson was right in terms of what makes the best arch-nemesis, but was wrong in saying he was the one. The perfect arch-nemesis is James McAvoy's character of The Beast. Both are essentially invincible and can't be hurt. But Bruce Willis has lived a life of where he hasn't had pain whereas James McAvoy has lived a life full of pain and his personality of The Beast is hunting down the type of person that Bruce Willis is. Which will make the showdown fantastic!
Through all of this, I have failed to mention that there is an actual story line going on here in the movie of three girls who get kidnapped by Kevin, or rather his personality of Dennis, and get held below what ends up being a zoo. With this being a spoiler review, I wanted to focus mainly on the character of Kevin and why the psychology being it all works so beautifully and why the personality of The Beast is actually fascinating once you know what universe this movie is in, but I suppose I should touch on the story itself. It is super intense and thrilling, even the second time around. Two of the girls get kidnapped because they represent the type of college girl that sexually abused Dennis. They are really annoying and whiny, but they're supposed to be that way. Anya Taylor-Joy from "The Witch" stars as the third girl who Dennis thinks is the same as the other two, but turns out she has been sexually abused by her uncle, who is also her legal guardian, so she gets saved by The Beast in the end because of it. I was confused by the flashbacks to Anya's childhood the first time around, but once you realize how they connect, they fit in perfectly to the story and are actually interesting. And disturbing. So Anya survives. The other two girls get eaten by The Beast, which is gross.
The only other part I missed so far is the old lady as the psychologist, who is instrumental in setting up the psychology aspect of the movie as she's the one who essentially is explaining things to everyone. Sadly she gets killed at the end, but she's also instrumental into helping Anya survive. Then Anya gets to go back to her uncle, so did she really get saved? It's an "out of the frying pan, into the fire" sort of situation. But yeah, if you couldn't tell by me having one of my longest reviews ever, I found this movie absolutely fascinating. I love psychology and because of that, I loved the psychology behind this character of Kevin. I thought The Beast thing was a bit of a weird end game, until I realized it connects to the movie and universe of "Unbreakable" and then it makes perfect. In a day and age of everyone wanting their own cinematic universes following the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, M. Night Shyamalan has now set up his own cinematic universe without cluing in anyone until the ending of "Split," which is genius. "Split" is a fascinatingly intense thriller that is a bit of a slow burn. I was nervous that the slow burn element would make it less interesting the second time around, but it ended up the exact opposite. "Split" is amazing and I'm giving it a 10/10.