Tag Archives: M. Night Shyamalan

Getting Crowded In Here

M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Split’ spins a devilish multi-personality web

Film Title: Split

Split
Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy & Betty Buckley
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
PG-13
In theaters Jan. 20, 2017

Most actors work for years to get single juicy part in a major movie. Not everyone is as lucky as James McAvoy.

In the thriller Split, the Scottish star—best known for his portrayal of Professor Xavier in the X-Men movie franchise—gets almost two dozen, all at once.

As Kevin, a deeply disturbed young man with “dissociative identity disorder,” sometimes he’s Mr. Glass, a fastidious maintenance man. At other times he’s Hedwig, an unbridled 9-year-old boy; or Miss Patricia, a cross-dressing matriarch, or Dennis, Orwell, Jade, Norma, Hamlet or one of his other distinct personalities, 23 in all, each with his own manner of speaking, dressing, walking and talking.

Betty Buckley

Betty Buckley

The title refers to all those different personas, split into separate slices. Kevin—or is it Dennis?—is seeing his longtime psychiatrist (veteran actress Betty Buckley), Dr. Fletcher, who’s trying to sort them—and him—all out. She considers him a puzzle and a prime example of the mysteries of the mind.

But Kevin also has a much darker side: Dr. Fletcher has no idea that he’s also a psychopath who’s kidnapped three young women (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sulu) and is holding them captive in a subterranean lair. Where are they? What he’s planning on doing with them—or to them? Can they escape? What—or who—is “the beast” he keeps telling them about? Why does he keep talking about “purity” and “evolution”?

Director M. Night Shyamalan is practically a brand name unto himself, known for his twists, turns and last-minute surprises in movies like The Sixth Sense, The Village, Unbreakable, Lady in the Water and The Visit. Here he takes somewhat standard horror movie stereotypes—teenage girls stripped to their undies, tormented by a crazy, creepy guy—but gives them a unique, Shyamalan-ian spin, and he doesn’t take the story where you’re probably thinking it’s headed…or where other movies with similar setups have gone.

Mental health professionals may disagree with the director, who also wrote the screenplay, especially about whether childhood traumas and suffering can “unlock the brain to the unknown and the supernatural.” That, you might remember, was somewhat of a theme in Shyamalan’s movie Unbreakable (2000), starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.

But you certainly can’t deny Shyamalan’s imagination and his style. He weaves a devilishly demented web of clues, and you never know exactly where he’s going until he gets there. And when he does—well, hang on. It gets wild, in more ways than one.

Anya Taylor-Joy

Anya Taylor-Joy

As the lead hostage, Casey, Anya Taylor-Joy (terrific in last year’s breakout horror movie The Witch) proves her resourcefulness—mainly because of a backstory, explained and unfolded in flashbacks that reveal how her own childhood “scars” gave her some formidable survival skills.

But this is McAvoy’s show, as he switches from one “alter” to another, sometimes in a single scene. It’s a bravura acting job, unsettling and terrifying. Taylor-Joy gives a great performance in a role that calls on Casey to contain her panic, call on her past and confront more than one kind of beast.

Shyamalan, known for his final-scene shockers, saves a whopper for the very end. I won’t give it away, but I will say it made me wonder if the director might be thinking that Split could be split off into even more films, bridging Shyamalan’s own movie past with his future. Based on what I’ve seen, I say start splitting, Mr. S!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To Grandma’s House We Go

Kids get more than milk and cookies in frightening, funny ‘Visit’

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The Visit

Starring Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

PG-13

Old people sure can be odd—and sometimes scary—to young ‘uns.

Director M. Night Shyamalan riffs on that generational rift, with frightening and sometimes very funny results, in this tale of two teenage siblings sent to spend a week in rural Pennsylvania with the grandparents they’ve never met.

As their divorced mom (Kathryn Hahn) departs on a cruise with her new boyfriend, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould, from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) ship off via train to get to know her estranged parents, whom she hasn’t seen in nearly 20 years.

8L60_ITP_00026RV2.jpg_cmykNana (Tony-winning Broadway actress Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie) are a bit strange, all right. She walks, runs and crawls around at night all ghost-like, in a white nightgown—and she projectile vomits on the floor and claws the walls. He thinks strangers are watching him, dresses up for a costume party that never happens, and squirrels something away in a shed behind the house.

Becca, a budding filmmaker, captures everything on camera for the movie she’s making about her mother’s childhood and the difficult relationship she had with her parents. As such, Becca’s movie becomes much of our movie, as we watch her “(found) footage” as she or Tyler are shooting, viewing or editing it.

8L60_FPF_00086R.jpg_cmykWriter/director Shyamalan has given us suspenseful movies before—Unbreakable, Signs, The Sixth Sense, The Village, The Lady in the Water. It’s easy to pick up here on some of his familiar themes: broken families, the mystical power of storytelling, otherworldly creatures, the “magic” of water. Becca’s movie-within-the-movie feels almost like a tribute to the director’s craft itself, with Becca and Tyler using filmmaking phrases like mise en scene and denouement. A deranged game of the board game Yahtzee veers for a moment into Quentin Tarantino territory. Beneath its carefully crafted scares, this is a very artful movie about movies, a story about stories, and a tale of a tale—with a trademark, last-minute Shyamalan twist.

The Visit has some truly hair-raising scares­—and some genuine laughs. Many of the chuckles come from young Tyler, a wannabe rapper who uses female pop singers’ names instead of curse words8L60_TP1_00088RV2.jpg_cmyk (“Oh, Shakira!”) when he’s in need of expletives. As the grandparents, Dunagan and McRobbie are old pros, TV and film veterans who keep the movie’s nasty, bone-chilling surprises closely guarded secrets until it’s time to spring them, when The Visit shifts from creepy to crazy and Nana and Pop-Pop’s home becomes a modern-day, Hansel-and-Gretel house of horrors.

You’ll squirm when Becca crawls deep inside the kitchen oven. You’ll gasp when Tyler ventures into Pop-Pop’s shed. And after the most outrageous, hilariously icky gross-out gag you’ll see in any movie this year, you’ll never look at an adult diaper the same way again. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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