Holy Toledo, I dug me some SPLIT. And I’ve been suffering a miserable movie track record lately! I found ALIEN: COVENANT to be a profound disappointment, I thought the abysmally titled RINGS was an atrocious snooze-fest and IT COMES AT NIGHT though undeniably impressive, made me want to hang myself. SPLIT is a good time! It’s got what I call “Joie de horreur.” I couldn’t wait to see what happened next and it’s so genuinely entertaining that it’s easy to forgive whatever little (or not so little) lapses in logic might occur. In fact, the film’s overall goofy weirdness tends to automatically transform its missteps and wonky reasoning into campy charm. I don’t know if it was its shameless misrepresentation of multiple personality disorder (see also RAISING CAIN) or its unabashed exaltation of the great BETTY BUCKLEY (see also CARRIE) but this angel of a movie inadvertently gave me the DE PALMA thriller fix I had no idea I was craving so darn badly. If NANCY ALLEN showed up, I could have died a happy man right there on my cat-shredded couch.
Please believe my sincerity when I tell you I mean this as a compliment- SPLIT not only reminded me of a delicious DE PALMA psychobabble sundae, it also made me feel like I was watching an extraordinary new breed of mutant LIFETIME movie (sorta like GONE GIRL). Three innocent teen girls (including bunny-faced ANYA TAYLOR-JOY of THE WITCH fame) are abducted from a mall (KING OF PRUSSIA MALL, the same joint I rented my very first VHS tapes from!) and kept prisoner by a madman with a ton of personalities and an enviable wardrobe. Bring a snack! This is the type of movie that if you caught it on TV, you’d never be able to change the channel or go back to sleep. Yes, it hit me in my LIFETIME zone and I found myself just as trapped as those girls. The only thing that softened the tension for me was the fact that I felt so comfortable in the lunatic’s living space and really related to his decorating style (especially the child alternate’s room with the stuffed animals). I realize now that the absolute perfect window for me is one that is drawn with a crayon. Let’s face it; I wouldn’t try to escape. Is that bad?
Don’t worry, I’m not forgetting JAMES McAVOY, he gets his own paragraph. Who is this guy? I barely noticed him in those X MEN movies and I didn’t make it past 30 minutes of VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN but he’s truly a wonder to behold in SPLIT. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed an actor so gleefully reveling in the boundless possibilities of his craft before. He’s completely free and fearless and you can’t take your eyes off of him. I’m sure somebody with a keener ear than mine could find faults with his delivery but his overall effervescence sold me completely.
And I have to say, even though this film’s representation of a dissociated identity disorder/multiple personality disorder is outdated, cartoonish and bordering on irresponsible, I can’t help being intoxicated by it. Maybe it’s just residual affiliation left over from my preteen obsession with SYBIL but I’m too intrigued by this questionably accurate construct to let it go. Even if multiple personalities don’t exist as this persistent Hollywood trope suggests, I think there is a useful truth about the fluidity of personal identity being represented that we all can relate to and recognize in ourselves. Hasn’t everyone had the experience of seeing different sides of themselves emerge when confronted by difficult situations? Is it uncommon to fear that an emotion might take you over, that if you were to express your anger fully you’d be in danger of becoming a monster? Who doesn’t want to regress back to the simple joys of childhood when reality becomes hideous? I guess what I’m saying is whatever this presentation of mental illness lacks in the accuracy department, I think it makes up for by relaying a bigger truth about the human condition. That’s my rationalization anyway, and I’m sticking to it.
I know I’m super late to the game and get zero cool points for gushing over a highly successful mainstream movie by a popular director six months after its release but this all does my heart good anyway. It’s a solid reminder that people can still surprise you after you have completely given up on them. I not only disagreed that THE VISIT was a return to form for M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN, I also thought THE VISIT was one of the most annoying motion pictures ever made.
But now I’m letting bygones be bygones. I’m even going to join the rest of the world and erase that faux-documentary THE BURIED SECRET OF M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN from my memory banks. It’s a good thing to have a director out there interested in the darker, more mysterious side of life making decent films again. A rising tide lifts all boats! Maybe now some more performance-reliant character driven independent horror films will get made- who knows? Plus, I have to give M. NIGHT his rightful due for consistently showcasing the super glamorous city of Philadelphia, the home of Kindertrauma Kastle, in the most complimentary light possible. In the end though, I’m most happy with the film’s bold conclusion. As we all know, M. KNIGHT is notorious for his twist endings. In this particular case, the ending actually opens the film up and expands its universe, increasing the possibilities. Whereas, I think the lion’s share of his previous rug-pulls do the exact opposite. I guess it could be argued that I enjoyed this because my expectations were low but the reality is, an exceptional performance (and a heaping dollop of BETTY BUCKLEY) goes a long way. Your mileage may vary but for me, SPLIT is just what the doctor ordered.