“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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“X-Men: Apocalypse” movie review

XMenApocalypseEpic! It isn’t often that one word can sum up the screening experience of a movie, especially when going into the film, one had lots of hesitations that stemmed from the questionable trailers. Prepare yourself for the heaviest of the X-Men movies future or past. Probably the best feeling to take away from this one is the storytelling quality of the cartoon paired with Bryan Singer’s unparalleled handling of what is arguably the most successful Marvel franchise over the decades (that may be changing with the unprecedented popularity of The Avengers). While some may describe this movie as a failed attempt at reliving the glory days of the X-Men, I venture to say that there is enough evidence to support this being a strong third movie. As much as I enjoyed the movie–and do not mistake me, I did–there was a LOT going on in this movie and it came close to failing to effectively and successfully tell A complete three-act story. Just like in Batman v Superman, where Warner Bros bit off more than they could chew, 20th Century Fox came close to making the same mistake. Thankfully, the story was just strong enough to drive excitement and thrill through the minds and bodies of the audience.

X-Men: Apocalypse is the third movie in the Bryan Singer reboot (fourth installment if you count the original X-Men movie from 2000). The world of Ancient Egypt was once the center of the universe; and in that great empire, there lived the original mutant [Apocalypse] (Oscar Isaac). He grew in strength and power to the point that he ruled the world. After several of his fellow Egyptians betrayed him in attempt to bury him alive, he was cast into a deep sleep hundreds of feel beneath the surface. Due to a dedicated group of followers thousands of years later, Apocalypse was awaken and he has set out to reclaim the planet as his own and raise his children. Determined to build his mutant army, he begins to recruit the most powerful X-Men including Storm (Alexandra Shipp). When Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) encounters Apocalypse while in Cerebro and is captured, the still-fractured X-Men must go to great and nearly impossible lengths to rescue him and save the world. Teaming up with new student Scott (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksilver (American Horror Story’s Evan Peters), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Havoc (Lucas Till) will battle Apocalypse and his four horsemen including Storm, Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

What a cast! The quality of talent in and of itself is an outstanding accomplishment and is responsible for a great deal of the success of the film. Writers create characters and directors craft them, but it is the actor who ultimately brings the characters to life for the silver screen. Each and every actor is an excellent match to their respective characters. In addition to the actors we have been introduced to in past films, the newcomers quickly cement themselves in this and future movies. With so much material and less than three hours to deliver a movie that could be on par with the previous two and The Avengers films, it was vitally important to have an impressive cast that could win you over instantly. There simply wasn’t time for an actor to grow on you or to decide how you felt about a particular character. Each actor needed to his a homerun as soon as they stepped out of the dugout. I paid close attention to Sophie Turner because I was only familiar with her from Game of Thrones, and I just wasn’t sure how I would feel about her as one of the omega class X-Men (Jean Grey). Oh, I knew she looked the part, but could she pull it off??? And the answer to that is a resounding yes.

Much like Captain America: Civil WarX-Men: Apocalypse is nothing short of a superhero extravaganza. And although they are similar in many respects, there are two completely different tones in the respective movies. Are they both serious? Yes, but the former also includes comedic relief sequences and dialog (and yes, if you read my review, I found those to be poorly handled but I am not going to revisit that tarmac scene or the annoying Spider-Man in this article) while the latter retains the serious tone throughout the movie. However, it is successful in not becoming a parody of itself as was the case with Batman v Superman. I will state this: Civil War does boast a dynamic plot that flows smoothly the whole time, whereas Apocalypse flows smoothly most of the time, but at others, it does feel a mite bumpy. We could discuss symptoms of the problems all day, but the root of the problem is simply trying to tell too much story in one movie. To be honest, I have a felling that I am going to decide that I like X-Men more but that is likely because, in all fairness, I grew up with the cartoon. What works for X-Men, much like Captain America, is the fact that the audience does not need to be familiar with the comics in order to enjoy the movie. Singer makes sure that anyone who enjoys high concept comic book superhero action movies will enjoy this film. Well, that is, unless you happen to be a diehard comic book aficionado. This movie is simply exciting and visceral.

Memorial Day weekend will either be dominated by powerful mutants or charicatures from the other side of the mirror. Although X-Men will probably not perform as well as Civil War, I don’t think Alice has a chance of topping this quintessential summer blockbuster on the unofficial start to the summer. Unless you live here in Florida where summer started in March. Haha. Speaking of Florida, and in particular Orlando where MegaCon 2016 is being held, knowing that most of the theaters would be filled with cosplayers and enthusiastic fans, I had the challenge of finding a theatre in the area at which to watch the movie and not face cols out auditoriums and nose-bleed seats. I was successful in finding a small privately owned theatre in the vicinity and has the whole thing practically to myself. Running camera for a medical convention, so I am writing from the Rosen Shingle Creek instead of my condo in Tampa. It’s been quite nice to stay on site versus driving an hour here for the event each day. Happy Memorial Day!