Article by: Anthony Florez
One of the things that kept occurring to me during the first act of M. Night Shyamalan’s film Split is how confident it was from frame to frame, scene to scene. There is a kind of focus and deliberateness that should not belong to a filmmaker who has been, until very recently, a punchline. I have had several experiences over the years, during the opening previews of a movie, where a trailer starts to look compelling or exciting and the words From M. Night Shyamalan appear on screen and the audience burst into laughter. The Last Airbender is objectively horrible filmmaking, and I don’t say that as just a fan of the source material, it’s as if he forgot the fundamentals of storytelling, scene transitions, directing actors, etc., I was at least impressed his thumb didn’t find its way into frame at some point. The less said about After Earth the better and there are a few more examples I could cite but I’d rather not. The point is, where did this resurgence in technique come from? And his writing ability and skill for building tension? How did he find that confidence again because make no mistake, these are the good ol’ days again, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable days. And I tip my hat to the writer/director for resurrecting his career.
First it should be noted that without the performance of James McAvoy, and I really should say performances, this film would have been dangerously close to genre parody or a gimmick film. But his fearlessness and complete dedication to the role is what holds the whole strange ride together, especially when the story takes more extraordinary turns, without his physicality and presence the whole thing founders. Additional credit to Anya Taylor-Joy, who has plenty of heavy lifting to do on her own. In a really big way she’s already a victim at the beginning of the story and anywhere else she would have been simply a damsel in distress but there is a lot for her character to develop and grow into. Again, a nod to Shyamalan for exploring her story in a way that is unsettling without being exploitive. He’s always been at his best when he’s inferring a thing or alluding to a deeper truth, trusting his actors to carry the emotional weight of a scene, often times without any dialogue at all. In fact, I found the conclusion to Casey’s part of the story to be as moving and subtle as anything I have seen in the last few years.
So a publication I’ve been reading for many years now that has been sort of an inspiration and a standard that I measure some of my writing against disappointed me in a huge way regarding this film. In a lot of places around the internet, with regard to film and television review these days, it seems to be passé or uncool to not condescend to the material, to not be above it in some way and if a movie or a show is not the absolute epoch of its genre, it’s just kind of okay, I guess. Granted, there’s a ton more programming and big tentpole film releases nowadays and it’s hard to pick through all of it so the casual viewer is going to benefit from a critic that is more discriminating. But if I ever lose the ability to sincerely enjoy just a ‘pretty good’ movie without it inspiring all kinds of hyperbole and shock, I’m hanging up the keyboard for good. The title of aforementioned review on this unnamed website was, “Split Lives Or Dies By Its Last 30 Seconds.” This is absolutely, categorically untrue. In fact, it’s bullshit and bad journalism, if anything that we do on the information super-tube way can even be considered such a thing.
The expectation going into an M. Night Shyamalan film is exactly that, especially with such a promising premise and little other information but if you go into a story constantly looking around the corners and second guessing things, if your entire experience as part of an audience is waiting to get to the end any disappointment with the thing as a whole is entirely your fault. You’re probably that person who keeps interrupting someone when they are trying to tell a joke or dumped out the entire box of cereal to get to the prize instead of suffering the anticipation of having to eat the whole thing first. And if you’re a writer putting out a review with that simple statement as a title, you’re setting up an audience to do exactly that.
To reiterate, the reveal or twist at the end is not, at all or in any sense, critical to the enjoyment of the story. The movie stands alone as a tense, exciting, wonderfully acted survival horror film with a reveal or twist at the end that is immensely satisfying, it definitely alters ones perspective but does not subtract from the suspense it creates along the way. Split opened at number one this weekend making it the first film from the writer/director to do so since 2004’s The Village. Which was a pretty okay movie, I guess. In conclusion this is a short article because the less said about the movie the better but I’ll bet the next new trailer that has the name M. Night Shyamalan attached, for the first time in almost a decade, isn’t going to draw a laugh as much as thoroughly earned excited anticipation.