“Split” movie review

splitIntensely captivating! M. Night Shyamalan stages a successful return to the horror-thriller genre in the brilliantly intriguing motion picture Split. When Universal Pictures, arguably the king of the American horror film, Blumhouse Productions, and Shyamalan combine their respective visual storytelling skills, the result is a dynamic thriller full of outstanding twists and turns. Shyamalan, long known for surprise or bizarre endings, provides audiences with the biggest surprise of all: he is back, and it’s a completely satisfying cinematic experience! Beginning with 2015’s The Visit, Shyamalan has been working on a comeback; and Split is the final evidence needed to support his successful return to the silver screen. James McAvoy delivers an outstanding performance–or should I say performances–every minute of the film. Although the concept of building a suspense-thriller around a character with dissociative identify disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is not a new one–after all Norman Bates is the most iconic example. M. Night Shyamalan puts his own spin on the character-type by adding his special blend of what can only be referred to as “shyamalan-ness.” You’ll definitely want to see it again in order to catch everything that you missed the first time.

A film that many psych majors will find fascinating! While the mental divisions of those with dissociative identity disorder have long fascinated and eluded science, it is believed that some can also manifest unique physical attributes for each personality, a cognitive and physiological prism within a single being. Though Kevin (McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him – as well as everyone around him – as the walls between his compartments shatter apart. (IMDb).

Just when you think the movie is going one direction, it throws you for an unpredictable loop. Split provides audiences with the same level of captivation as M. Night delivered in Signs or even in The Visit. Very much character-driven, this film could have easily taken a turn for the campy or par-for-the-course approach to a central character with DID; but Shyamalan proves that a familiar premise can be crafted into a whole new experience. After the incredible success of 1999’s The Sixth Sense, audiences everywhere set the bar for Shyamalan quite high–in fact he was prematurely compared to a 21st century Alfred Hitchcock. While it is highly unlikely that any director will reach the iconic status of Hitchcock, Shyamalan was seen as a director who would provide a similar experience to that which earned Hitchcock the moniker the master of suspense. Evidence of his admiration of Hitchcock can be been in the title sequence of Split. It bares a striking resemblance to the opening title sequence from Psycho. 

However, the danger in prematurely setting expectations too high is that you may likely be setting yourself up for disappointment. And that is precisely what happened with Shyamalan. From killer plants to invisible supernatural entities, he began to lose the cache he earned in the early 2000s. M. Night would spend years disappointing audiences to the point that he became a joke–a parody–perfect material for Family Guy. Then just when all hope for Shyamalan to regain the admiration of movie patrons–especially those who enjoy horror/suspense/thrillers–he gives us The Visit in 2015. That film was the glimmer of hope he needed to begin to rebuild his status as a thriller/suspense/horror filmmaker. And with the incredibly satisfying Split, M. Night Shyamalan is BACK!

Films like Psycho and Split only work as well as their respective director and cast–primarily the villain. Obviously, Psycho stands up to the test of time and will forever be a favorite of many cinephiles and a testament to the power of visual storytelling, Split had to be a new experience while still channeling the director that Shyamalan admires and patterns himself after. The success of Split rested upon the performance of McAvoy as Kevin (and the 23 others with a 24th on the horizon). McAvoy’s performance in this film is quite possibly the best of his career. Each identity is clearly seen as individuals. From his facial expressions to his gait to the manner in which he carries himself, every identity is unique in voice and appearance. Even in the middle of a conversation, one identity goes away while another surfaces into “the light.” Although there are only a few identities that have prominence in the diegesis, the others give audiences just enough nuance to register them as having a presence in the subconscious of Kevin.

For all the excellence in cinematic storytelling Split has to offer, there is no denying that it may be controversial in that it uses DID to construct a “beast.” There are already members of the mental-illness community who have expressed disdain for the subject matter and context of the film. However, prematurely dismissing this film as offensive to those suffering from cognitive disorders would be ill-conceived. After screening the film, it is clear that the focus is not on DID itself (or any other cognitive disorder that Kevin may have), nor is Kevin crafted to be an unredeemable monster; but, this film uses DID and the character of Casey (one of the young ladies who is captured at the beginning of the film) as tools through which to explore childhood trauma, abuse, and coping mechanisms. Isn’t that what films do? Push the envelop in an effort to provide a different perspective on an issue, problem, or circumstance? Horror is often concerned with “other” scenes–revealing that which should remain hidden–and Shyamalan does precisely that in Split.

If you enjoy horror, suspense, or thriller films, then you are definitely going to enjoy Split. There is so much to take in, that you may want to watch it again in order to catch everything that you may have missed the first time. Even if you are skeptical or think the content may be offensive to the mental-illness community, you may be surprised that there is a lot that can be gleaned from the narrative. With brilliant performances, excellent writing, and outstanding direction, Split should be on your radar of films to watch this weekend.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

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“The Purge: Election Year” movie review

PurgeElectionElection results are in! Get ready once again for this year’s annual purge. From Universal Pictures and Blumhouse, The Purge: Election Year is a cinematic rollercoaster of espionage, action, revenge, campaigns, and of course the trade mark unbridled violence. Horror is one of my favorite genres to discuss because this genre often includes fantastic themes and subtext that act as social commentary on gender, politics, religion, economics, sex, or technology. Going into this movie, I was already prepared for the political themes, but there are many more themes for one to discuss with this film. In many ways, I am not even sure how to proceed with analyzing it. Cinematically, or from a technical perspective, the movie is fantastic. Yeah, a little campy at times but that is par for the course. Contains just the right amount of comedy, albeit dark, to balance out the darker or heavier elements. The fact that this movie is truly prompting me to think about its content is fascinating. Often times, I have a good idea of how I am going review a movie while I am driving home from the theatre; but this one is definitely requiring me to think about it more than I typically need to. I suppose that entire articles could be written on any one theme in the movie, but I only have 1000-1500 words to analyze it. Haha. The biggest question is whether or not this movie is actually counterproductive.

Two ideas of how life should be in the United States are at war, or at least that’s how it plays out on the debate stage. Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor) and Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) are going head to head over the purpose and necessity of the annual purge as started and supported by the reigning New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) regime. Just two days before the annual event, the NFFA makes the decision not to exempt anyone, not even government officials ranking 10 or higher, from this year’s purging. After an inside job threatens the life of Senator Roan in her own home, she and her trusted chief of security bodyguard Frank Grillo (Leo Barnes) must seek safety. With only Senator Roan standing in the way of the NFFA winning another election, the NFFA and hires assassins will stop at nothing until she is defeated. After a chance meeting with supporters of Roan, Frank and Senator Roan team up with the small band of rebels to survive the night at an attempt to end the chaos and win the election.

Although the first movie did not exactly have much in the way of social commentary themes beyond greed, Purge: Anarchy and this present installment are certainly drenched with rich themes that could fuel discussions for hours. One could surmise that the principle theme of the second installment in this thriller franchise was rich v poor. A very apropos theme considering the US economy was only-then emerging and beginning to grow from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Walking into this movie, I was prepared for political themes; but politics was only a principle element in the plot by extension and used as a highway to get from beginning to end. Not even in subtext, but the predominant theme of Purge: Election Year is clearly white v black. I find this concept and theme is dangerously and carelessly carried out because it really serves to perpetuate the idea that there is a difference between whites and blacks in the Unites States. Instead of the movie showing audiences what could, albeit unlikely, happen in a future America if not challenged or changed, it serves to add fuel to the fire that there is a difference. Furthermore, I find that the movie is unfair to both whites and blacks. It’s unfair to whites because it shows most of them having a hatred from blacks and nearly unanimously in favor of the purge while it depicts the predominant demographic of violent offenders as blacks. Now, I am sure the intention of the movie is not to be counterproductive or perpetuating a negative idea, after all it is produced to be entertaining; however, it’s difficult to watch the movie without wondering if it really is counterproductive in message and theme.

Beyond the social commentary on white v black, the movie also spent a lot of time on the perversion of organized religion. Although the religious aspect to the NFFA was included in the previous installment on a minor level, Purge: Election Year spends a great deal of time connecting a perverted organized version of warped Christianity (very much Catholic or Anglican in structure) to the driving forces behind the NFFA’s passion for and dedication to the annual purge. Just like I feel that the producers and writers of this movie crossed the line with the white v black violence, I feel that this version of organized religion only serves to perpetuate the idea that those in organized relation (mostly Christianity) are hate mongers. Obviously, most people know that this isn’t the case; however, that idea is certainly out there because of differing views on some socio-political areas of community and life in general. Perhaps the movie is commenting on how different groups of people may perceive one another. If that is the case, then the groups of people depicted in the movie can gain a better understanding of how an opposing side views them. Sometimes seeing your actions through another’s eyes helps to ignite positive change. I think that is a beauty in a film like this. It can be read in so many different ways and dissected to support one theme or another.

Quite the antithesis of the U.S. holiday most will be celebrating in one way or another this weekend, The Purge: Election Year paints a picture of a fractured country. In light of the recent massacre at Pulse in Orlando and other massively violent acts around the world, I am not entirely sure how well this movie will do over the weekend. Certainly around here, it may not be well-attended since I live in the Central Florida area and have been there many times myself. Universal Studios Florida is even revisiting the inclusion of The Purge as a house at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. If for no other reason, this movie stirs may emotions whether they are motivated by race religion, or socio-economics. Like with most horror movies, I suggest watching this one with a friend or two. That way you can have fun discussing it afterwards.

“The Visit” movie review

TheVisitOver the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go…You’ll never think of visiting your grandparents in the same way ever again. I just have to say, congratulations M. Night Shyamalan for making a triumphant return to the horror genre. Blumhouse and Universal Pictures’ The Visit is a found footage/documentary style horror film that has a lot to offer as we slowly gear up for the Halloween season in the coming weeks. The film successfully pairs blood curdling thrills with belly laughs. What can be more terrifying than a visit to grandma and grandpa’s that has gone terribly wrong??? Sometimes the best horror films are those that take what is otherwise non-descript or safe and twist it around and turn it inside out. And, that is what you get with The Visit. One of the best parts of the movie is that the–what you thought were spoilers in the trailer–are not quite as they seemed and will still catch you off guard. Perhaps next time you visit your grandparents, you may not want to leave your room after 9:30 in the evening. This is especially true if your grandparents live way out in the sticks where the only connection to the internet is an ethernet cable.

After years of separation and ignoring one another, a single mother (Kathryn Hahn) makes contact over social media with her estranged parents in the woods of Pennsylvania. Reluctantly, she decides to allow her kids Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) to take a train to visit their newly discovered grandparents against Mom’s better judgment. The timing works out because Mom has a new boyfriend that has invited her on a cruise to escape the snow and bask in the sun. Upon arrival in their grandparents’ jerkwater hamlet, Becca and Tyler soon become concerned about their grandparents’ bizarre behavior. Rules like stay out of the basement and don’t leave your room after 9:30 in the evening are just the beginning of the strange and terrifying encounters that lurk behind corners and under porches. Fearful for their lives and virtually cut off from the outside world, Becca and Tyler must carefully and skillfully escape the warm kitchen, delightful cookies, and old world that has them trapped.

Okay, at first I was disappointed that it was going to be another found footage or point-of-view documentary style movie. Unless I had missed something, the preview did not lead me to believe that it would be shot POV. I was hoping for a traditional narrative that was shot mostly objectively. However, as I watched the movie, I actually found the documentary style shoot to work for the film quite well. Took a little getting used to, but in the end, it was a great method for telling this terrifying tale of a visit to grandma’s. Although the pacing does start off on the slow side, it picks up and will have you sucked in before you know it. From the moment that you meet grandma and grandpa, you know that there is just something not right. And, just like a good horror or suspense movie should, you won’t know that that is until the end of the movie during the climax–you most likely won’t see it coming.

One of the many positive elements of the movie is Shyamalan’s ability to integrate humor with the terror. One minute you will be laughing along with the kids, and the next you will shoot right up out of your seat with fright. There are even parts that will gross you out while other parts of the film contain mouth-watering homemade delights. They all work together to disorientate the audience. One of the best methods to ensure a scare is to keep the audience off balance. This way, you can hit them with a jump scare here, a warm moment there, and sneak in from behind and scare them. The disorientation allows for the narrative to build up to the most horrific elements of the movie. It’s like, the audience is in the midst of a horror movie before they know it. Building suspense is paramount to a well-written horror film. Not that jump scares aren’t important, but a film should very rarely ever build a foundation upon solely them. Building suspense lasts, a jump scare is like a firecracker–lows up quickly and dissipates just as fast.

If you are in the mood for a fun horror film before hitting Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida/Hollywood or Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa/Williamsburg, or just want to put on the movie movie on your boyfriend or girlfriend, then definitely check out The Visit while it is in theaters.

“The Gift” movie review

TheGiftWho knew a slow-burning plot could be well-paced at the same time. The Gift is the latest movie released by Blumhouse and performed quite well over the opening weekend. Although billed as a suspense/thriller/stalker movie, it plays as a dark drama with a few intense jump scares. Unlike many movies in this sub-genre of horror, this one is surprisingly well-directed and written. In fact, there was only one exchange of dialog that I felt was extremely OTN (“on the nose,” meaning stating the obvious). Structurally, the plot is solid and leaves very little time for the audience to grow restless. Another interesting component to the movie is being predisposed early-on to side with and feel particular ways about the respective characters; but then after some big reveals, you begin to question your allegiance and favoritism. Perhaps you may find yourself rooting for whom you first admonished. There is much that is left up to interpretation, but not in a way that leaves you feeling negatively about unanswered questions. It’s one of those horror movies that encourages you to think differently about situations and characters.

The Gift is about Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) who move to LA for Simon’s new job. Relocating from Chicago, Simon and Robyn are excited to buy their new mid-century house and develop a life in a new city (which is actually childhood home of Simon). During an ordinary shopping excursion to a homewares store, the couple runs into a former high school classmate of Simon’s named Gordo (Joel Edgerton). After several conversations and a dinner invitation, Simon begins to suspect that there is something not quite right with Gordo and tells Gordo never to visit them again. Despite the harsh treatment from Simon, Gordo leaves gifts for the couple on their front porch, only some gifts should remain wrapped.

Other than a couple jump scares and eerie music, the movie is more of a mystery/drama than a thriller. It lacks that visceral thrill that curdles the blood throughout the movie. But despite that, it’s incredibly well paced and written. The excellent direction did not go without notice. Often times, movies that feature the director in a principle acting roll suffer because it is very difficult for a director to focus on orchestrating the storytelling and acting at the same time. Joel Edgerton is nearly unique in his demonstrable ability to successfully tell a visual story and deliver excelling acting. My only negative critique to the writing and the directing is the blatant absence of a climax/showdown. I was expecting something big to happen toward the end of the movie, in which the culmination of all the reveals and investigations come to fruition; but I was disappointed and felt unsatisfied with the resolution. Even though this is a different take on the whole stalker concept, I feel that the plot should have included a showdown in order to add a definitive thrilling element to the story.

Sometimes I think I know how a movie is going to play out; and often times, through my research and productions of my own, feel confident in my ability to read a movie through the trailer and the advertising. Not the case with this one. Honestly, I was expecting another Lifetime movie trying to make it big in the cinema (much in the vein of January’s Boy Next Door); however, I was pleasantly surprised and mostly happy with how this one played out and how well it was directed. It definitely leaves you to interpret actions, in the movie, for yourself and it also contains some very cool symbolism and subtext.

The Gallows movie review

The GallowsA new twist on the found footage genre. Blumhouse’s The Gallows is the movie adaptation of the urban legend that sprung out of the real accidental death of Charlie Grimille at Beatrice High School in Nebraska during a play. This is the type of movie that you already know is going to be built upon the concept of the jump-scare, but it takes the often overly employed plot device and actually couples it with sub-plots and proper pacing. Even for the avid horror film fan, this movie will definitely curdle your blood and send your anxiety level through the roof. Surprisingly, this found footage horror film deviates from some of the most common tropes appropriately associated with this horror sub-genre. Although any substantial narrative and dynamic plot lacks from the film, it still provides thrills, chills, and gasps. You may even find yourself resisting closing your eyes to avoid the horror on screen. Be sure to bring a friend or significant other along if you dare to watch!

The Gallows takes place during the final rehearsals for Beatrice High School’s production of the play The Gallows. Back in 1993, the school produced The Gallows but due to a prop malfunction, the character of August was actually hanged. Ever since then, the school until today, never produced the play again. Despite rumors and alleged sightings of paranormal activity in the school’s theatre, Pheifer (Pfeifer Brown) has decided to spearhead a revival of the cursed show. On the evening prior to the show’s opening, Pfeifer catches her co-star Reese (Reese Mishler), his douchey best friend Ryan (Ryan Shoos), and Ryan’s cheerleader girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Erin Gifford) dismantling the set. Unfortunately, this chance encounter inside the theatre, is the beginning of a night of terror and mystery.

Due to the very nature of the essence of a found footage movie, it is the type of movie that should be appreciated for what is it–some good scares for an hour or so. This movie genre is not produced to typify the art of filmmaking; but it’s produced for pure unpleasureable pleasure. So, given the goal of the movie, it was very successful in producing frightening imagery for the eyes and embedding terrifying thoughts in the minds of the audience whilst sticking to a coherent plot. I especially liked how the writers included subplots that underscored the more superficial narrative. This is something that is usually left out of found footage movies. Furthermore, the ending is definitely unique to what is typically expected in this sub-genre.

If you’re a fan of horror films, this is definitely one to check out! Even if you are not fond of found footage movies (as is the case with yours truly), you will still find a great deal of enjoyment in being scared for a short while. For further reading, check out the true story and urban legend that serves as the inspiration for this film. http://www.hauntedhovel.com/beatice-high-school-beatrice-nebraska.html and/or https://supernaturalinvestigations.wordpress.com/2008/11/16/the-charlie-grimille-case-beatrice-nebraska/