A continuing series with rapid reviews about great movies
See end of review for assessment:
A must see on the big screen,
Matinee getaway OR
Watch movie, but wait for DVD
At the risk of being repetitive, my disclaimer is this: I like movies as much as the next person, though I’m by no means a fanatic. My fourteen-year-old boy, however, is quite the aficionado and more than once he’s used his stealth swaying powers to get me in front of the screen.
Tonight it was for M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, which after a few minutes in I recognized from previously viewing its trailer. While not (I thought) in love with Shyamalan or psychological thrillers, my lack of follow-up had more to do with the subject matter of abduction, a topic that unnerves me when immersed within it for too long—especially as part of storytelling.
In this particular tale three high-school girls are abducted from King of Prussia, later awakening to find themselves in a small room complete with torture lighting. Their kidnapper is a man with 23 personalities, key of which are revealed to viewers—and the girls, albeit more slowly—as the film progresses through scenes, including his visits to a psychologist and one of the girls, Casey, experiencing flashbacks of life events that aid her attempts to strategize a way out.
The room itself is part of the set I liked the least, for where we are placed as we observe events is almost claustrophobic. Shyamalan manages to generate in viewers a sensation of skittishness in there as we face the horrible colors, subtly glaring light (if that isn’t too contradictory) and overall ickiness of the surroundings: no windows, humid, basement-y, utilitarian and lonesome, the very place no cautious person would ever go into willingly.
We feel backed into a corner when confronted with James McAvoy’s multiple personalities, portrayed so brilliantly we will never look at Tumnus the same way ever again, which for the actor may be a pretty good deal as he escapes potential typecasting as a faun, and is known for his amazing repertoire. Truly, this was a risky role given the film’s uncomfortable content, but McAvoy owns it as he introduces the various personalities by the very expressions on his face. Spectacles are a prop for one identity, but they are almost superfluous given McAvoy’s ability to reposition his countenance and alter his accent, even his very voice to become who he is (at that moment). Who else resides inside his psyche is yet to be seen, as is the cost to whom he reveals himself.
Anya Taylor Joy also gives a fantastic performance even in silence, for her range of emotion speaks volumes: horrific fear, fierce determination, raw desperation, even bitter anger. As her abduction is set in motion and the two other girls are already knocked out, it might be contemplated that to simply wake up somewhere horrible must be the absolute worst. Taylor Joy challenges this as one tear runs from her eye and she is utterly paralyzed in fear and terror—too much so to simply leap from the car she might otherwise have escaped. One simply murmurs to one’s self: Oh. My. God.
As a director Shyamalan is impressive and I can appreciate his talents displayed in transitional shifts, perspective angles, fitful lighting and a host of other techniques utilized to create tension and elicit commentary directed at characters, willing them to do this or that—and do it faster. And while I am absolutely fascinated with the brain, I prefer mostly to stay out of the dark corridors of the mind. Shyamalan, however, manages to lure from this protective evasion to view technical brilliance and magnificent performance within the themes of, amongst others, the role of history, labels, leadership, agency, coping mechanisms, relationships and communication. And in the end we see a surprise that makes us think both Aha! and No way!
Stay tuned, people, stay very tuned.
Assessment: Major performances are worthy of
cinematic experience, whether day or night
Click the title to see our previous
“Movies by the Minute” review for Dunkirk