At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Split “2017”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Psychological Thriller/ Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Sebastian Arcelus, Brad William Henke, Neal Huff, Lyne Renée, M. Night Shyamalan, Rosemary Howard, Izzie Coffey/ Runtime: 117 minutes

I think it is incredibly safe to say that in the aftermath of absolutely roaring onto the film making scene in the 90s and beginning of the decade known as the 2000s and making some seriously fantastic cinematic fare like The Sixth Sense, Signs, and Unbreakable that still hold up phenomenally well nowadays, it’s no closely guarded secret that the career of infamous film helmer M. Night Shyamalan began to hit more than a few speed bumps. Speed bumps that began with a slice of cinema from 2004 known as The Village, started getting really hilariously obnoxious with 2006’s Lady in the Water and 2008’s The Happening respectively, and eventually made their way to both the downright nightmare and slap in the face that was his adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender and the absolutely ludicrous in every single way that I can think of 2013 Will Smith and Son sci-fi oddity After Earth. Oh and don’t even get me started on 2010’s Devil (and he only produced that bloody thing). As a result, I think it is safe to say that 99.5% of this man’s career had managed to go completely and utterly off the rails in many respects. However following what literally was a decade of soul crushing and heart breaking disappointment, film goers soon saw something unusual occur around the time that Shyamalan gave us a slice of cinema known as The Visit in the long gone year of 2015. Indeed not only was this slice of cinema actually unique from every other slice of cinema he had made up to the, but this spooky saga about a pair of kids finding a routine visit to see their grandparents taking a turn for the absolute nightmarish was actually fairly good (shocking I know). As a result, this slice of cinema also seemed to hint to audiences that we might actually, against all the possible odds in the world, get a M. Night Shyamalan comeback. Yet if that slice of cinema was the cinematic equivalent to an aging rocker’s first single that listeners actually are listening to with a fervor and passion in a while, then the slice of cinema I am reviewing today in the form of 2017’s Split proves to be the cinematic equivalent far and away of a highly anticipated reunion tour with the rest of the band. I say that because this well-crafted and riveting entry in the thriller genre about a trinity of teenage girls who are kidnapped by a guy who is stricken with dissociative personality disorder is not just easily this infamous film helmer’s finest effort since Signs from back in 2002, but it also is just a fantastic film from him point blank. Indeed here is a slice of cinema that manages to be both brilliant and riveting in equal measure whilst also proving to feed the audience vital intel whilst also keeping its more important cards close to the chest until it’s ready to reveal them in a way that is both novel, astonishing, and quite intriguing to boot. That and when you factor in that this slice of cinema also drops on audiences not only terrific work being done behind the camera as well as a truly astonishing performance from both James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy, but also easily far and away one of the finest twists that M. Night has seen fit to give us since his work on The 6th Sense what you are left with is no more and no less than a fun and truly great and quite thrilling time to be had period and one that I promise you will be one you want to watch time and time again.

The plot is as follows: Split gets its thrilling tale underway as we arrive at the tail end of a girl’s birthday bash and everyone has started to go home. It is also where we see a pair of girlfriends by the names of Claire (who was the birthday girl) and Marcia are busy filling Claire’s dear ol’ dad with story after story about how a girl by the name of Casey, who was incidentally invited only out of sympathy, is a bit of a hideaway from the rest of the world. Yet even though Casey is content on just waiting for her ride home, we see Claire’s dear ol’ dad instead kindly insist that he take her home since he doesn’t want something bad to happen to her (oh the irony). Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that whilst in the parking lot, the trinity of girls decide to get in Claire’s dad’s car, but are also tragically oblivious to the fact that daddy dearest is also being drugged whilst in the middle of placing things in the trunk by a enigmatic individual. An enigmatic individual who soon steps into the car and, following a few tense moments, proceeds to knock out both Claire and Marcia who are sitting in the back and then Casey as well when she makes an attempt to escape his clutches in the front seat. From there we see that our intrepid trinity is swiftly taken to this mystery guy’s literal lair where they quickly discover that this guy is someone who is stricken with a psychological ailment known as DID (or Dissociative Identity Disorder if you really want to get all technical about it). As for how badly he is stricken well let me see if I can put it this way: there are at least 23 personalities in this guy’s psychological body. Of course when you have 23 personalities duking it out in you, it’s no surprise to learn that some of the personalities are scary whereas others are a bit more bestowed with decency. More than anything however, there are some personalities who enjoy taking control of the physical body more than the rest with this particular category being represented by a pair of personalities by the names of Dennis and Patricia respectively. Yet we soon learn that one of the other personalities, a kindly fashion aficionado who calls himself Barry has been having frequent sessions with a psychiatrist by the name of Karen Fletcher. A woman who might be fully aware that there are 22 other personalities besides Barry in this guy’s body, but who is completely in the dark about the fact that this guy has just kidnapped three people and is currently holding them captive…..somewhere. Yet we soon see that Dr. Fletcher has other pressing issues with this guy. Namely that in her sessions with Barry and the other personalities they keep referring to a new personality that is coming and which is known only as “The Beast”. A personality that the guy claims is a powerful and terrifying force to be reckoned with, but who the good doctor doesn’t really believe exists, but is instead a product of this guy’s truly fractured and splintered imagination. Of course, this is also the part of the plot synopsis where I think I will just stop it right here since I am of the belief that giving you any more in regards to the narrative that this slice of cinema is operating with might inadvertently ruin a surprise or two the movie would rather keep close to the vest. If anything, just trust me when I tell you that what you are seeing unfold before your eyes in this is way more than a simplistic and quite run of the mill kidnapping thriller. Rather, film helmer M. Night easily and far and away has a bigger puzzle that he is putting together in this. A puzzle incidentally that when the final pieces are put into place will show off a reveal that will either have you completely and utterly befuddled or have you absolutely ecstatic….it all depends.

Now although this slice of cinema is able to do a wonderful job of getting quite a fair amount of suspense from the various attempts by the girls to get out of this nightmare, they are actually at times more of a back-up narrative when it comes to this slice of cinema choosing to focus on unearthing the depths of their kidnapper’s psyche. Indeed whereas other slices of cinema might have made the choice to slowly but surely feed audiences information about this guy’s issues and what he plans to do from the perspective of his victims that is not the case in this slice of cinema. Instead, this slice of cinema permits the movie goer the opportunity to see this guy actually interact with the world around him with particular regard to his caring and worried psychologist whilst having the main crust of the narrative being more on just who this guy is, what is this “Beast” he keeps going about, and what is to happen when he shows up. Yet despite the fact that the way that this slice of cinema chooses to showcase DID might be a bit on the cartoony wide, there is still no denying that the wonderfully written script penned by Shyamalan does utilize the psychological trappings of this condition as a way to potently and effectively ground the film. This is because, much like a lot of people who tragically suffer from mental issues, the kidnapper in this has these personalities due to trauma endured throughout his childhood and who uses them as an adult to prevent himself from being hurt further. The character of Casey on the other hand has also been a victim of mentally traumatic experiences and as a result we see an unusual bond begin to form between her and the kidnapper. Suffice it to say that in this slice of cinema being a victim is not something that is played for cheap emotions or even laughs. Rather, it is played in a way that feels absolutely chilling yet also understandable and even cathartic to an extent as well. Finally, I guess it should also be said that this is one slice of cinema that also looks really terrific. Indeed a lot of that can also be attributed to the work done in this by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis from It Follows. Indeed Gioulakis does a great job at making the fluorescent lights in the basement of the kidnapper look even more nauseating than usual, the dark shadows throughout this lair both bleak yet also absolutely terrifying, and this whole ordeal a claustrophobic-inducing nightmare in the best way possible.

Now whilst yes I do suppose that the helmsmanship from Shyamalan to say nothing of the taut and riveting script he penned as well as the truly incredible camera work on display from Mike Gioulakis who was recruited by Shyamalan personally to come aboard this slice of cinema due to his phenomenal skill on the wonderful nightmare of horror cinema that is 2014’s It Follows to name but a few highlights do immensely aid in making this slice of cinema an exciting film in regards to the work done behind the camera, I also think props should be given to the truly next level performances in front of the camera by both James McAvoy and Anya Taylor Joy that do a wonderful job of making sure this slice of cinema is able to be one that is more than just another run of the mill entry in its respective genre that we have seen a thousand and one times. Not only that, but both of these talented performers also do a fantastic job at approaching this material with both a genuineness and level of dedication that I honestly don’t know of a whole lot of other actor have been brave enough to take on. Suffice it to say that together this dynamic duo of performers do a wonderful job of engaging in a balancing act of pathos as well as moods like terror, heartache, guilt, and even dark humor with phenomenal skill. This starts with James McAvoy and honestly I am completely not surprised in the least that he has been consistently cited since this slice of cinema first came out as one of the key reasons that it ultimately works on the level that it does. I mean from the very reserved and cleanliness-obsessed Dennis to the unnerving Patricia and even the blue sock-wearing and Kanye West-adoring Hedwig who has honestly become a fan favorite since this slice of cinema came out, McAvoy manages to bring each and every single one of these personalities vividly to life. Not only that, but the transitions between the personalities are so minor like a lip tighten or a brow raising or furrowing yet incredibly effective as well. Not only that, but McAvoy does a great job at letting each and every single personality get the chance to operate as if they, and not the others, are the star of this slice of cinema. Suffice it to say that McAvoy manages to do a completely and thoroughly wonderful tango between every single personality in this guy’s body with a level of both elegant finesse as well as scene-stealing swagger that results in this being not just one of the top performances McAvoy has given audiences to date, but also aids immensely in making this character one of the finest cinematic male antagonists of this distinct genre of movie magic to be given to audiences in quite a while. As for the work done in this by Anya Taylor-Joy, she once more manages to show each and every single of us why in the world her work in such movies as The Witch and even Morgan were proof that she is a phenomenal talent and a genuine star. Indeed in the pivotal role of Casey, Taylor-Joy manages to give us a young woman who may be quiet and reserved to say nothing of possessing some severe psychological baggage, but who finds within herself a level of strength that she is able to call upon in order to keep this clearly insane guy appeased whilst also looking for a way to get out of this situation in as close to one piece as she possibly can. Suffice it to say that it’s a wonderful performance from a young actress who has managed to prove that she most assuredly is a talent to keep an eye on.

All in all it might not be a perfect slice of cinema by any stretch of the imagination, and there may be moments sprinkled throughout where it falls face first into some of the more annoying tropes of its respective genre, but there can be no denying that Split is far and away the most riveting and taut slice of cinema its iconic film helmer had made in the past decade. Indeed the helmsmanship is fairly well done, the cast in this gives solid performances with a truly out of this world phenomenal turn by James McAvoy leading the way, and the end result is a slice of cinema that manages to come closer to a lot of Shyamalan’s earlier work whilst giving the audiences a film that they can be thrilled and engaged by time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give Split “2017” a solid 3.5 out of 5.