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Review: Split (AFI FILM FEST)

Split (AFI FILM FEST)
11.24.2016
7 10

PLOT: Three teenage girls find themselves held captive by a strange man with mysterious intentions. They soon realize that he may be far more sinister than they had ever imagined.

REVIEW: M. Night Shyamalan has certainly had a unique career. With the massive success of THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, and SIGNS, it appeared that the filmmaker would have quite the resume. And then came THE HAPPENING, LADY IN THE WATER, THE LAST AIRBENDER and AFTER EARTH. With so many disappointments, it was refreshing to see the director take on a smaller film like THE VISIT. The low budget found footage flick took the less-is-more approach and it worked far better than anticipated. Perhaps it wasn’t a complete return to form, but it was a big step in the right direction. And thankfully, his follow up isn’t all that bad either.

When we first meet Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and her best pal Marcie (Jessica Sula), they are forced to give the strange kid at school a ride by Claire’s father (Sebastian Arcelus). The strange kid is Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), and she has trouble connecting to her fellow students. However, the three girls are soon forced to deal with each other in an unexpected way. After a stranger kidnaps the three, they awake in a room together with no knowledge of where they are, or who took them and why. Things get even more bizarre when the man that captured them - a fantastic James McAvoy - begins to show strange personality traits.

In comparison to Shyamalan’s earlier work, there is a certain assuredness in SPLIT. This is a twisted tale with a slight hint of Brian De Palma’s  DRESSED TO KILL. He plays the thriller angle straight, but there is definitely humor here. Most of that humor comes from McAvoy himself. There is also a necessary subplot involving his psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (played by veteran actress Betty Buckley). Considering much of the film takes place in a room where Casey is kept, it still works better than you’d think. This is a well shot feature that manages to keep things suspenseful for the most part and much of that is expressed through Shyamalan's stylish visuals.

As far as the script is concerned, the build-up to the finale works well enough. Unfortunately, the creepy factor sometimes borders on being a bit silly. And while McAvoy give such a fascinating show, some of the dialogue is just plain dumb. When it comes to the girls, the performances are all good. However, we didn’t get much of a sense of who Claire and Marcie are, aside from a slightly stereotypical version of teen girls in jeopardy. That’s not to say that it’s all bad, in fact, it works more often than it doesn’t. Still, you can’t get away from the sometimes goofy nature that manages to seep in, even in the darkest moments. Perhaps that isn’t a terrible thing.

Fresh off her work in THE WITCH and MORGAN, Taylor-Joy is really terrific here. The actress is quite convincing as the weird teen with a secret she is hiding - yep, this wouldn’t be Shyamalan if it didn’t have a secret. The actress conveys a sense of believable strength making her the most interesting of the three girls. Yet both Haley Lu and Jessica are able to bring life to their work. Another surprise is a solid show from Buckley. She is especially good opposite McAvoy, and she may have the second most complicated role.

Ultimately, the reason why this works as well as it does is McAvoy. The actor takes the material and is able to make a captivating character out of the bizarre nature of this specific story. In writing this, I’d rather not give too much away about the character he portrays. A warning however, the trailer for the film reveals way more than I did here so you may want to avoid it if you haven’t seen it already. I will say that it is a risky turn that could have easily been a disaster with a lesser talent. He is able to bring a feverish tension to this mysterious man, at one time kind and innocent, and the next moment, he can be terrifying.

SPLIT is yet another step in the right direction for M. Night Shyamalan. The new film has an energy to it that has been lacking in a number of his big screen fables. Much of that comes from the inspired casting of James McAvoy. The actor gives this strange creature he has taken on a level of depth. Sure this story has much of the fanciful feel of the director’s less than great works, but it’s much more effective in this smaller setting. This twisted thriller may not rise to the heights of say THE SIXTH SENSE, but it is a fun popcorn flick that at times feels much smarter than it is. If you are looking for a creepy time at the movies with solid performances, this is a good place to start.

Source: JoBlo.com

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12:56PM on 11/25/2016
Love M Night. Obviously not all his movies are amazing but he tells a story well. McAvoy is such a great actor cannot wait to see him splitting his personality again.
Love M Night. Obviously not all his movies are amazing but he tells a story well. McAvoy is such a great actor cannot wait to see him splitting his personality again.
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1:36AM on 11/25/2016
This is good to hear. The trailer seemed intriguing. I've enjoyed M NIght's earlier films, and I was hoping this would be a step in the right direction.
This is good to hear. The trailer seemed intriguing. I've enjoyed M NIght's earlier films, and I was hoping this would be a step in the right direction.
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+1
12:39AM on 11/25/2016
The Shyamalan ship has sailed for me, but I am willing to give a good movie a chance. This seems quite interesting and I like McAvoy (who doesn't?). Also, I trust Joblo reviews, so, good enough for me.
The Shyamalan ship has sailed for me, but I am willing to give a good movie a chance. This seems quite interesting and I like McAvoy (who doesn't?). Also, I trust Joblo reviews, so, good enough for me.
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11:31PM on 11/24/2016

Willing to him another chance

He hit some homeruns in the early part of his career. I am sure his ego didn't do him any favors but I am hoping he learned some lessons from the failures. The Visit was definitely a step in the right direction.
He hit some homeruns in the early part of his career. I am sure his ego didn't do him any favors but I am hoping he learned some lessons from the failures. The Visit was definitely a step in the right direction.
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8:31PM on 11/24/2016

I'll see it.

Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs- Loved 'em.

The Village - It took a couple watches but it finally grew on me.

Lady in The Water - Liked it a lot.

The Happening - This is the only movie of his I really hated.

The Last Airbender - In not 10 years-old so I never saw it.

After Earth - Not great but nearly the dumpster fire everyone makes it out to be.

The Visit - I hate found footage but this one worked in spite of that.

Split - I'll give it a shot. There's no reason why I
Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs- Loved 'em.

The Village - It took a couple watches but it finally grew on me.

Lady in The Water - Liked it a lot.

The Happening - This is the only movie of his I really hated.

The Last Airbender - In not 10 years-old so I never saw it.

After Earth - Not great but nearly the dumpster fire everyone makes it out to be.

The Visit - I hate found footage but this one worked in spite of that.

Split - I'll give it a shot. There's no reason why I wouldn't. The trailer looked good and I've dug most of his movies.
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12:45PM on 11/25/2016
I agree with most of what you said. But I loved lady in the water. It was like an untold fairy tale come to life. The happening is only enjoyable if i think of it as an unintentional comedy. Last Airbender had so much potential. The cartoon is amazing no matter what age you are.
I agree with most of what you said. But I loved lady in the water. It was like an untold fairy tale come to life. The happening is only enjoyable if i think of it as an unintentional comedy. Last Airbender had so much potential. The cartoon is amazing no matter what age you are.
4:37PM on 11/25/2016
I think Wahlberg killed The Happening for me. There were some cool death scenes but overall it isn't a movie I would want to watch again.

I haven't seen Lady in a long time. I already dug it when I last saw it. I'm sure I'd like it more if I saw it again. My suspicion is that critics didn't like it because the movie poked fun at them. Critics need to grow thicker skin in my opinion.

I have no interest in Last Airbender at all. They may be great but I'll never know. So many cartoons get
I think Wahlberg killed The Happening for me. There were some cool death scenes but overall it isn't a movie I would want to watch again.

I haven't seen Lady in a long time. I already dug it when I last saw it. I'm sure I'd like it more if I saw it again. My suspicion is that critics didn't like it because the movie poked fun at them. Critics need to grow thicker skin in my opinion.

I have no interest in Last Airbender at all. They may be great but I'll never know. So many cartoons get recommended to me and when I check them out, I'm disappointed about 90% of the time. If it's anything like Dragonball Z or Pokemon, I'm almost positive I won't like it. Not to say they suck, just not my thing.
3:04PM on 11/24/2016
Looks decent. I might check it out...And you forgot to mention The Village when you were talking about his failures. Because first came The Village. ;-)
Looks decent. I might check it out...And you forgot to mention The Village when you were talking about his failures. Because first came The Village. ;-)
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12:47PM on 11/24/2016

It looks interesting, but its M. Night Shyamalan...

I might watch it to see McAvoy's performance, but I have lost all respect for M. Night as a filmmaker. He seems to out do himself by creatively coming up with new ways to make each subsequent movie worse than the last.
I might watch it to see McAvoy's performance, but I have lost all respect for M. Night as a filmmaker. He seems to out do himself by creatively coming up with new ways to make each subsequent movie worse than the last.
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2:20PM on 11/24/2016
The Visit was not worse than After Earth, even if you didn't like The Visit. It was a step in the right direction. None of M. Night Shyamalan's movies are without flaw (forced dialogue, character quirks replacing character development), but he has been on the upswing, so I expect a better movie, especially with some of the reactions.
The Visit was not worse than After Earth, even if you didn't like The Visit. It was a step in the right direction. None of M. Night Shyamalan's movies are without flaw (forced dialogue, character quirks replacing character development), but he has been on the upswing, so I expect a better movie, especially with some of the reactions.
6:32PM on 11/24/2016
It seems like you just want him to fail, which is a real jerk thing to do to someone. Clearly you didn't bother seeing The Visit, which invalidates your statement that each film is worse than the last. If you really did see Visit and consider it worse than After Earth, you will need to explain that reasoning.

I don't hold any particular expectations with him anymore, but we should want him to get good again. He is one of the only Hollywood filmmakers left making mostly original material,
It seems like you just want him to fail, which is a real jerk thing to do to someone. Clearly you didn't bother seeing The Visit, which invalidates your statement that each film is worse than the last. If you really did see Visit and consider it worse than After Earth, you will need to explain that reasoning.

I don't hold any particular expectations with him anymore, but we should want him to get good again. He is one of the only Hollywood filmmakers left making mostly original material, after all.
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