Scary, Smart, and Split Between Senses

Scary, Smart, and Split Between Senses

About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville nearly 20 years. Currently, he studies Journalism at Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Scary movies worth recommending don’t come often, and neither do many studio films released in the month of January. Split, opening in theatres today, breaks the mould with a suspenseful, intelligent movie. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s considerably more enjoyable than you might suspect.

Horror often gets a bad reputation for being a genre associated with lazy filmmaking. And whirlwind filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan often carries the same burden – especially after two major flops with 2010’s The Last Airbender and 2013’s After Earth.

And yet Split is an unusual outlier in many ways. Instead of intense effects and boring dialogue, there’s razor sharp editing and tense conversations. This type of intimate, human horror stories is the kind of movie that gave Shyamalan a promising name early in his career, with great films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Even last year’s The Visit has similar themes and scope.

As both writer and director, he personally financed the (very small $10 million) budget so he could exercise passionate creative control. He’s been very careful not to overdo any one moment or scene, but the concept and plot of the story are immensely creative.

Photo credit: Universal Pictures.

Split opens with three teenage girls being abducted by a stranger (James McAvoy), who they soon discover has a dissociative identity disorder (DID) and could be one of 23 identities at any given time. As he undergoes therapy to control them, the girls must escape their unknown location before the arrival of a 24th identity with grisly consequences.

What makes the movie so refreshing is Shyamalan’s use of Alfred Hitchcock-like smarts to create fear. A slam on a table, a laugh, or a suggested action off-camera create all the horror needed to induce terror in the audience. There’s no  Saw-like gore or empty threats; this is suspense with a spine.

That being said, the movie is very intense. Horror aficionados will take it in stride, but average movie-goers beware. The sound and camerawork can be seriously scary, and the last 20 minutes (safe the very last three or four) are borderline traumatizing. At my late-night screening full of twenty-somethings, five people left near the end.

James McAvoy is a tour-de-force as abductor Kevin’s 23 personalities (though we only meet about 12 of them), and is lots of fun to watch him switch between people. The real scene-stealers are the three captives Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson, and Anya Taylor-Joy (from Netflix’s Barry), showing maturity and talent rarely achieved by teenagers.

The feint of heart would be better off with something much happier and fluffier, with no risk of heart-bursting terror. For those on the fence, it is a high-quality film, and I enjoyed it despite my tendency to avoid horror movies. There’s no alarm, if you can sit through a mild horror, though it’s unsurprising some audiences are split between hesitation and running for the door.

Split
3 out of 4 stars.

14A, 117 minutes. Horror Thriller.
Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, James McAvoy, and Betty Buckley.
Now Playing at Cineplex Winston Churchill and Cineplex Oakville & VIP.

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