Wednesday, January 25, 2017

SPLIT (20016)
Directed and Written by M. Night Shyamalan

Critiqued by Anthony Servante

Go see the movie and come back. Wait a minute: Go see “Unbreakable” (2000), then go see “Split” and then come back. Or just read the damn thing. This is not a review. It goes way beyond that. This is a fanboy weeping for joy. David Dunn is back!!

Going in to “Split”, I was not thinking about M. Night Shyamalan's notorious twist endings. “The Visit” (2015) was focused more on the build up than the payoff, although the twist ending made sense within the context of the story. “The Sixth Sense” (1999), however, had an ending that changed the whole dynamic of the film--it became Bruce Willis's story rather than the story of Cole Sear played by Haley Joel Osment. The dynamic in “Split” is similar. It seems like Anna Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy's movie, but as the surprise ending(s) show us: It is still Bruce Willis's story. What?? Allow me to explain. Did you see the "SPOILERS!" warnings above? Good. Proceed. 

Split” deals with Kevin Wendell Crumb (played by James McAvoy), a schizophrenic, who has 23 recorded personalities. Allusions to the supernatural are drawn in connection to Kevin. If you've seen the trailers for the film, you know there may or not be a 24th personality known as The Beast, the culmination of “The Horde”, the 23 combined personas turning into an animalistic man-creature that can grow muscles, extend his height, and climb walls like, well, like Spiderman. McAvoy, who plays the many personas of Kevin, speaks of the difficulty of playing The Beast: “[T]he hardest part was playing the character that comes up at the end — the much-talked-about, avenging character at the end. He was difficult because he couldn't just be a bad guy, but he also couldn't be an over-the-top, monstrous villain. He had to be somewhat in between that. It was just hard to find that balance that would make it definite that he wasn't a normal guy, but he wasn't so mental that we would think, 'What is he? Should he put on a costume and have superpowers?' So that was pretty tricky.” He also complained having to wear high heels, which female cast member insisted were comfortable shoes, but which he found painful. But let’s discuss "Split" a bit more before venturing into that twist ending.

Taylor-Joy (left), Jessica Sula, Richardson (right).

The movie centers around two sets of characters: the three kidnapped girls who are sacrifices for The Beast; and Kevin Crumb and his psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (played by Betty Buckley, known for her roles in “Carrie” (1976) and “The Happening (2008), another Shyamalan directed film). The three kidnapped girls, Casey, Marcia, and Claire, are played by Anna Taylor-Joy (“The Witch” (2016), Jessica Sula, and Haley Lu Richardson, respectively. The storyline revolves around the girls trying to escape while both they and we, the audience, learn about Kevin’s many personalities. What is important is that two of the personalities have hijacked Kevin and are initiating the birth of the 24th Personality. A layer of the supernatural is added by a Skype conference that Fletcher holds with other doctors around the world, where she explains that schizophrenics have manifested traits in their new personas that utilize a part of the brain unreachable by the initial persona. It seems that with multiple personas, the brain and its control over the body are more accessible for molding or malleability. For example, it is pointed out that a blind patient has two personas who can see, that the optic nerve was repaired by the brain for the new personalities but the initial patient remains sightless.

McAvoy (left), Buckley (right).

It then becomes a waiting game for the audience to see if the 24th Persona will emerge, or, if as Dr. Fletcher believes, that it is only a “bogeyman” being used by two of the personas to control the other personalities. The doctor believes this because one of the personalities has a fetish for watching young girls dance nude; she feels that this personality is manipulating the others for his own sexual pleasure. But this persona insists that “The Beast is on the move".

The Beast

The patient movie-goer will be rewarded to find that “The Beast” does emerge. He is a superhuman. He withstands two shotgun blasts at point blank range. He bends steel bars. The 23 personalities of Kevin Crumb have united as “The Beast” or “The Horde”, the media’s name for him. Kevin escapes, Casey is rescued, and the news is transmitted from a local Philadelphia diner. As patrons watch the TV, one of the women notes that the press has dubbed the schizophrenic killer “The Horde” for his collection of personalities and comments that there was another man in a wheel-chair who also had a name given to him by the media. David Dunn, who is sitting at the edge of the diner counter, turns from his meal and coffee and says, “Mr. Glass.”

David Dunn in Security Outfit (Superhero Spectre-ish)

It was not the storytelling that made this movie work for me. It was the surprise twist that we have just entered the extended universe of “Unbreakable” (2000) , the story of a superhuman. Let’s not confuse a human with supernatural power with superheroes like Spiderman or Superman; those are comic book figures. In the world of Unbreakable, Bruce Willis plays a normal man who comes to learn that he cannot be hurt and has great strength. Mr. Glass, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is the villain, who explains that for every human with one extraordinary power, there is one who is his opposite, one who is so fragile that his bones break like “glass” at the slightest impact. Elija Price educates David Dunn to teach him that he is “unbreakable”, cannot be hurt (Dunn walks away unscratched from a train crash, the only survivor). In “Split”, the 24th personality is a superhuman who feeds on people who have never been victimized, the “impure”. When Willis hears the news on the TV in the diner that “The Horde” has escaped after his killings, we know that during the last fifteen years that Dunn has been fighting crime and has zeroed his attention to this new menace. Chapter three of the “Unbreakable” trilogy can now be made. Nerds rejoice!

Hooded "Hero"

This is an excerpt from a M. Night Shyamalan interview re Split's connection to Unbreakable:

Interviewer: Did you always conceive of this a being part of the Unbreakable universe?
M. Night Shyamalan: This was always part of the Unbreakable world. Kevin Wendle Crumb was a part of the original, original script for Unbreakable. I pulled him out because it just wasn't balancing right. But a bunch of the scenes that are in this movie, I wrote 15 years ago. They were as is. Patricia opening the door. Hedwig's first scene. Those were all written already. And it's literally from the same moment that I created all the characters, all three of those characters. But I knew I wanted to do a movie about him because I just loved him so much, and I thought it's a rich world for storytelling, so I was super, super excited to finally make it.

Interviewer: You've teased an Unbreakable sequel for years. Was this it? Or are we going to see another one with Bruce Willis as the star?
M. Night Shyamalan: This is down the line, but my hope is to make one final movie that combines the two.

Unbreakable Part One

As such, “Split” is the origin story for a possible (probable?) nemesis for David Dunn, the unbreakable superhuman. The Horde (or The Beast, aka, The 24th Persona) has emerged from the infighting of his many personalities in the form of a supernatural creature who will continue to kill the “impure”, innocents who have not suffered or been victims of violence. In the original screenplay for Unbreakable, according to M. Night Shyamalan, Kevin was the villain that David Dunn would fight to rescue the girls, but that with The Janitor and Mr. Glass, Kevin didn’t fit. The director has finally found a way for the schizophrenic to fit the Unbreakable universe—by becoming The Beast.

So fans of “Unbreakable” can indeed rejoice. The only thing left to decide is if “Split” is part two or 1.5, leaving the door open for “Unbreakable 2”, and if “Split is part 2, will the next Unbreakable movie be called part 3. Nerd questions, I’m sure, but we fans of David Dunn have awakened after fifteen years. Who cares what it will be called, only give us Unbreakable vs.The Horde, please. I may not get all schizophrenic about this, but you never know. Has anyone seen my high heels?

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