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Split (2017)

How great is that poster?!

Much has been made of Split as M. Night Shyamalan's return to form. It's certainly been a long time coming. Sixth Sense (1999) made cultural waves at the time of release to an extent that the endless spoofs and jokes about it's twist have overshadowed the film itself. It's an excellent horror film, and gets under my skin every time I watch it. I enjoyed, but didn't love Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002), and by the time The Village (2004) was released I feel like Shyamalan and his twist endings had begun to become joke in itself. From then on his films seem to have got progressively worse to the extent you wonder whether that early work was a fluke. In 2015 it looked like he had stripped back the high concept ideas evident in duds like Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and 2013's After Earth (I went to the cinema by myself to see that... urgh) with his tense horror, The Visit, and Split is much of the same.

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I've been looking forward to Split for what feels a long time. It might be that I watch too many YouTube videos on my lunch break at the moment, but nearly all I put on would have the trailer as an ad before the video itself. The marketing bombardment appears to have done it's job too. As I mentioned in my review of Lion, we ended up seeing that film the other night because the showing of Split was full when we got there. One week later, and it was a good job we had booked ahead as the screen we were at was full once again. There is definitely a buzz around this, so I will obviously be avoiding any spoilers at all - although I won't be giving any of the plot away, I'll save my opinion on that ending until the very last paragraph of this post, so stay clear if you want to go in completely blind. As is very clear in the trailers, Split tells the story of James McAvoy's Kevin... or is that Dennis?... or was it Patricia? Kevin has dissociative identity disorder - a condition that leaves switching mercilessly between 23 different personalities. One minute he is an uptight clean freak, the next a 9 year old boy, a camp fashion designer, or a controlling woman. He regularly visits a psychologist (Betty Buckley) who has a theory that such a condition can result in a person's body chemistry to change depending on the personality. The film starts quickly though when Kevin abducts three girls. They are locked in a basement with the promise that a 24th personality he refers to as The Beast is coming. I'm not sure how I feel about the picture the film paints of mental health disorders, although I would hope most will have the common sense to take it as the popcorn psychological flick it is and nothing more.

This has got to be an actor's dream. Apparently original set for Joaquin Phoenix to play the main part, having seen the film it's difficult to imagine anyone other than McAvoy as Kevin. He has an unnerving grin that gets under the skin, and a physicality he can change at whim that brings each personality he plays to life. Those (like myself) expecting him to cycle through each of the 23 personalities are going to be a little disappointed - we stick with 5 for large portions of the film - but that shouldn't make his brilliant performance any less impressive. McAvoy goes under my list of actors that can often go over the top a bit (see David Tennant), but that plays in to his hands with a role like this and he's definitely the best thing about Split. I really enjoyed the scenes where he would instantaneously flip between personalities, and thought it was clever how some personalities were actually pretending to be another as they fight for control. Whatever you think about the rest of it, I feel there's enough in this performance alone to get a kick out of the movie. The dialogue was a little sluggish at times and heavy on exposition at others, and this doesn't do McAvoy's supporting cast any favours unfortunately. They're all fine enough if, understandably, playing it pretty straight opposite the whirlwind that is Kevin.

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It Follows (2014) is one of my favourite ever horror films, so I was excited to see what the same cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis, would do with Split and I wasn't disappointed. It's a great looking film, from people running in the shadows, long stretches of piped corridors, and unobtrusive flips of perspective from 3rd to 1st person. I was really impressed with that aspect of it. It's a shame then that the film didn't get me on an emotional level and actually scare me. Having seen the trailer multiple times I was expecting a cagey, claustrophobic thriller with plenty of tension and I never felt that at all. Something like 10 Cloverfield Lane did that much better. I wasn't overly bothered about what happened to the girls, and the story seemed to slow up with the flashbacks and dodgy dialogue at times. It was more an exploration of the Kevin character than the tense thriller I was hoping for.
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In terms of films with a multiple personality plotline, (for very different reasons) I'll always prefer Me, Myself & Irene (2000) and Psycho (1960), but I still had fun with Split. M. Night Shyamalan films always arrive with preconceptions and expectations, and I think that were you to watch Split unaware it was one of his it would be a different experience (although his standard cameo appearance would give it away eventually). It's certainly a return to the form of his better films, even if I didn't love it. And the ending? NO SPOILERS: I was a little disappointed in the twist, and felt duped in to thinking I was watching something I wasn't. I can see why it's been so divisive though as some will definitely be very pleased with it. I saw a review from a guy who knew the twist and whole plot going in to the film and said he thought he enjoyed it more knowing that. At the time I couldn't think how that would be, but it makes sense to me now for the reason above. However, would I have gone to see the film knowing what I was getting myself in for?... not sure. AND HE WAS DEAD THE WHOLE TIME..... loljk... or am I?


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