Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Split’s inconsistencies outweigh strengths

Split is like the dissociative identity disorder seen in the antagonist: a confusing jumble of good and bad elements that result in a weak film. James McAvoy portrays Kevin, a man who houses 23 incredibly different identities. Some require glasses or insulin shots while others are female or as young as 9 years old. All of these identities and characters are played very well by McAvoy as he kidnaps three teenage girls and ominously talks about “The Beast,” an unknown identity that is explained throughout the film. The girls, played by Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula and Anya Taylor-Joy, constantly plan to escape as Barry (one of Kevin’s identities) meets with his increasingly suspicious therapist.

The problems with director M. Night Shyamalan’s Split definitely do not lie in the acting of the two main characters, Kevin and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). The issues are found in how good the beginning of the movie is, how bad the middle is, and how tolerable the ending is. Split is incredibly inconsistent in camera movement, soundtrack, story, tone and message, all resulting in a very muddy movie which will leave audience members more puzzled than anything.

The cinematography and camera movement at the beginning of the film, in the moments that Casey is kidnapped, are some of the most interesting cinematography that I’ve seen. They are well done first-person views mixed in with up close, nearly suffocating shots. These initial moments are a great way to set the tone for the rest of the movie in how frightening it is at times. But Shyamalan appears to forget what went into making these incredible moments, only to remember near the end. It was such a disappointment to not have any more shots like those when they would have fit very easily in other scenes. 

This inconsistency comes across in the film’s score, or lack of it. An incredibly haunting song plays during the intro title sequence; it uses sounds that do not even seem human. Yet that is one of the only times that we hear it. The next time that we hear that noise is near the ending of the film. I appreciate that it is not overused, yet I believe that it is heavily underused. Even when music is deployed in some other scenes, the soundtrack becomes quite happy, not threatening or even creepy. The music just did not fit some scenes very well. 

These inconsistencies with the cinematography and soundtrack result in a very uncertain tone. This unpredictable mood is only made worse by the very odd dialogue. It seems that Shyamalan wanted to break up the tension with some comedy, which is understandable but completely unnecessary most of the time. The audience and I laughed way too often at Split. I expect to be terrified and creeped out at horror movies, especially a Shyamalan movie. It makes the film become so confusing as to what one should get out of it. I am not sure if this is meant to be a dark comedy, a horror movie or an odd slasher film.

The only saving grace of Split is how good the acting is from McAvoy and Taylor-Joy. The character arc of Casey, Taylor-Joy’s character, and how her story is revealed to the audience is quite interesting and well done, as is seeing how Kevin’s alter egos manipulate his therapist and how they interact with Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley). These performances are incredibly strong, especially in comparison to the other two girls Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula). Even the performance we see from a younger Casey (Izzie Coffey) was done very well given the dark content for a five year old.

The characters’ individual stories are what contributes to the confusing message of the film. The main thing that Kevin’s identities are dealing with is how seriously they are treated out in the real world. Kevin is treated both like he is less than human and as if he is faking the unusual illness that he struggles with. This “seriousness” that Kevin keeps talking about touches on how the abused and mentally ill are treated like they are not even human. Shyamalan is very obviously trying to show the world that those who have gone through extreme trauma and those who become mentally ill because of it should not be treated like they are weak or broken. Through Casey’s character, he speaks directly to victims and tells them that they are stronger than everyone else for what they have gone through, and this is a very strong and important message.. 

The problem with the message, though, arises with Kevin’s identities and how his specific story relates to that message. It is not really a good idea to show that a mentally ill man can be a psychotic serial kidnapper and possibly a murderer. Why is Shyamalan showing us that mentally ill people are human on one side of the story but then showing that they are stronger than human and more murderous and unstable? Just like the rest of this movie, the message gets muddied by everything around it. 

Was this Shyamalan’s goal though? Did he want to have his movie be just as muddied as his character’s personality disorder? Has he become such an amazing artist that no human can truly understand his movies? Or is it just not a good movie? I am one to believe that Shyamalan has, yet again, missed the mark with this movie. If you want to watch a few good horrifying scenes mixed in with some confusing comedy scenes and an almost unitelligible message, then Split is the movie for you.

Also, leave quickly after the final title screen. There is an Avengers-esque after credit scene that occurs before the credits that completely and utterly ruins any credibility Shyamalan has as a horror/thriller movie director. 

Grade: C+

silverscreen@theeagleonline.com


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