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Belittling Horror Excessively: Split01:49 PM -- Sat October 7, 2017

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Split (2017)
Rated PG-13
IMDB Says:
“Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities. They must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.”
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10
Metacritic Rating: 62/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 74% critics, 79% audience
Solee: 4/5
Mikey: 4.5/5
We paid to watch this on FandangoNow.

Solee: So we watched Split, the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie. It’s been a long time since we’ve watched something of his.

Mikey: I know I’ve missed everything since The Village… although we did see Devil (trapped in the elevator with the devil movie), which he just wrote. People are always saying we weren’t missing much.

Solee: I don’t know about you, but that’s been an intentional void on my part. I loved Sixth Sense and Signs so much. Then there was the one with the trees and Mark Wahlberg and I just couldn’t ...

Mikey: Haha, the trees. Outrun the wind!

Solee: YES. It was just too much. Actually, I wasn’t all that enamoured with Unbreakable, either, but I know that many people were.

Mikey: Yes, I loved that! Not as much as the first two, but a very fun superhero movie. Not to jump right to the end of this movie, but the nod to Unbreakable in it kind of indicates to me that this movie is actually also a supervillain origin story. More than kind of, actually.

Solee: Oh, TOTALLY. The fact that he didn’t get caught seals that up with a pretty bow. Anyway, so I was hopeful about this movie--as previously discussed, I love psychological thrillers above all else--but also very cautious. Also, whenever I go into a movie with a “twist” feeling like I already know what the twist is … well, that always leaves me wondering.

Mikey: Was there a twist? What is it you predicted?

Solee: I hadn’t seen much about Split prior to watching it, mostly intentionally because Shyamalan likes his twists and I didn’t want anything spoiled, but I knew there were multiple personalities. I’ve realized that wasn’t really a secret (see movie poster above!), but I didn’t know that going in.

Mikey: Wow, definitely not a twist so much as it is the synopsis of the movie! I do feel like there wasn’t a twist to the movie. I think it suffered for that, and it’s a Shyame that that’s the case when you least expect it. Perhaps that is the twist!

Solee: Yes, I missed the twist. Shyamalan does good twist. The other thing he does well is to take things that seem loosely related and knot them together into vital elements of survival. The terrible things that happened to Casey were terrible AND the thing that allowed her to survive, not only because Beast respected her suffering, but also because of the accumulated knowledge she had. Those other girls who had never suffered had no idea how to survive.

Mikey: On a related note, at first I thought the idea that saying his full name was his kryptonite seemed silly and artificial, but as soon as they did the flashback to show why it worked, it was just perfect.

Solee: Agreed! It was a heartbreaking and horribly real touch.

Mikey: I also liked that it only worked once and then he was over it. He was changing rapidly.

Solee: That’s the kind of kryptonite that’s too easy to use if it always works. Speaking of changing rapidly, I thought James McAvoy did a fantastic job playing the different personalities. It was very clear who he was at any given time without being over the top and silly.

Mikey: And on the flipside, the explanation of the entire process of having the split personalities worked. I like that they actually understood what they were, rather than a whole series of people constantly going “why am I suddenly here? Where have I been?” which is more typical. They used a lot of information they had clearly been taught by their therapist. His therapist...

Solee: They seemed to prefer the plural pronouns. They used “us” and “we” all the time.

Mikey: The funny thing is I used the plural because I was actually thinking of them as a bunch of different characters all working together to hold the girls captive. I sometimes forgot it was just one.

Solee: Wasn’t that kind of the point? They were a bunch of different characters who just happen to share a single body.

Mikey: I’m just saying they did a good job!

Solee: Yes, they did. Well, he (McAvoy, who I assume identifies as a single male) did a good job portraying them. Pronouns are complicated.

Mikey: Zhey certainly are. Do you want to know my twist to the movie?

Solee: Yes! At one point you said, “OH!” like you thought you knew what was going to happen. What were you thinking?

Mikey: I was disappointed this didn’t play out, and I feel like I out-Shyamalaned Shyamalan. But at the same time, it’s quite possible he decided against this twist because it was too obvious, it was the twist you would expect to encounter. But no twist isn’t really better… anyway! About halfway through, at the point where Casey’s flashbacks had included her confrontation with her uncle where he took the gun away from her, and the therapist had told Dennis that she was convinced that The Beast wasn’t another personality of his, and he said he had seen the Beast himself, I was like OH SNAP. You see, it was well established that it was intense trauma that brought on the multiple personalities, he had sought a powerful one to protect him from the trauma. So I decided she had done the same - and The Beast was her alternate personality (which had killed her uncle shortly after that scene, possibly with her bare hands), based on the whole “let’s play animals” issue, and poor Dennis was going to find out you shouldn’t unleash The Beast. But then there’d be some serious coincidence to the initial kidnapping I guess (since he would have had to know who she was - he was taking her, along with two sacrifices to her). But still, it fit so neatly with everything. I was disappointed. She could’ve even been another patient.

Solee: I had a similar thought. I thought that the three girls were actually only one girl and it’s just that she could experience them simultaneously, so we were seeing the situation through her perception. He’d followed her long enough to realize that she was like him and that’s why she was the right “food” for the Beast. The separating of them was “symbolic” and he knew how to do it because of his work with the therapist. But then I realized that the news had reported three girls missing, so that couldn’t be it.

Mikey: That’s super good actually! They would’ve had to change a bit for it, but that is a very interesting twist as well. I just realized that the fact they were in a zoo was actually supposed to be something of a twist - the whole “long mane of hair”, “skin like a rhino”, we were supposed to go “oh I get it” when we saw the zoo. Was not a big twist.

Solee: I kinda did … but in a reveal way, definitely not in a twist way. It was just new information that made things fit together tighter. A twist makes you take everything you know and completely rearrange it.

Mikey: Oh, and twist #2 from me: at the end, when he had her trapped in the cage and was breaking in… instead of going “oh, you suffered too, you’re cool”, I was kind of overwhelmed for a moment by the sheer amount of trauma she had just suffered over this whole experience, and how terrified she must be at that moment, and was like “oh, NOW she’s going to split”... either as a little coda once she’s rescued, or as her way to save herself from him. I kind of can’t believe she didn’t, since that was sorta the whole premise.

Solee: I’m glad she didn’t. Disassociative Identity Disorder (which they never called by name in the movie; it was always D.I.D.) is extremely rare (hence the “will they believe we exist now?” thread running throughout) and having her split too would almost seem like making light of it to me.

Mikey: Well, this is a movie, not reality! It’s gotta feed the core concept. Feed the beast! But you know what I think it did instead, which was a movie thing feeding the beast? It had her as his opposite - she had survived and held strong in herself. Foils. Also I can’t believe that the news report even called it D.I.D. with no explanation, that felt weird.

Solee: Right at this moment I’m a little mad that they brought Bruce Willis in as the “superhero” instead of allowing her to be the Beast’s archnemesis. They didn’t actually go that far, but there was a definite whiff of “oh, thank God, the Hero is here now”.

Mikey: I don’t know, I feel like Bruce was more of an in-joke than any kind of savior, though I suppose that’s the sequel implication: Unbreakable Vs. Beast Showdown Extreme.

Solee: They didn’t even give her the satisfaction of ratting that bastard of an uncle out to the cops on screen.

Mikey: I would’ve liked that, but I do like that she was never some superhero who could actually defeat the Beast. She survived more than won, and that is human.

Solee: Yes. It brings me back to what I thought the theme of the movie was. It felt like an exploration of privilege vs survival. Honestly, while I thought it was well done, I’m unhappy with the underlying message of the movie, which seems to be “you must suffer to be worthy”. This is a concept I’ve struggled with as I attempt to be a Writer. Those two girls who had such privilege (but were clearly smart, kind, strong, etc) were basically thrown away and Casey survived ONLY because the Beast valued her because of the abuse she’d experienced both at the hands of her uncle and from herself. In fact, the fact that the trauma of her sexual abuse pushed her into self-harm was the real reason she was spared. I don’t like the idea that teenagers might be watching this and internalizing the idea of self-harm as a form of protection. At that point, it felt like a story being written by someone who hadn’t yet handled their own trauma in a healthy way.

Mikey: I hadn’t really processed what it meant (on a broader level) that her suffering is what let her be spared. It is strange as a ‘moral’ to the film. I’m not quite sure what to make of it!

Solee: Well, I know that I will be putting a self-harm warning on this review and I am not at all sure I’d recommend it to some of my loved ones who have dealt with self-harm. It didn’t feel empowering enough at the end.

Mikey: I have an idea that the only reason for the self-harm was because they couldn’t have that scene without it - he wouldn’t have been able to see her emotional scars, so they had to physically embody them. And it was done without thinking of the issues you brought up. But I’m still wondering what the theme was, because it is weird. Then again, it’s coming from someone who is known to have made movies about how much his critics have torn him down (The Lady In The Water, from what I’ve read), and has indeed been scorned and ridiculed for years… also a man of color, living in America. So maybe he’s looking for something there. A point to the suffering he’s endured! Maybe that’s getting too deep and personal.

Solee: I’m sure there are deep, personal messages in there. I’m glad he has an outlet for working through his emotional upheaval. I’m just not sure he utilized the proper sensitivity readers for this one. So given all that we’ve talked about, how would you rate Split?

Mikey: Well, now I’m having doubts after thinking about what it all means, but in truth, I don’t think I fully got the meaning. I think there’s more there than I can understand as someone who has never really suffered at all (and the fact that I find that embarrassing to say is something else to discuss… suffering does seem to make you worthy!). So I won’t worry too much about that, and I’ll just say that I give this one a 4.5 for being quite engrossing and enjoyable, even if it didn’t twist the way I wanted it to (twice!).

Solee: I’m going to give it a 4. I have some definite issues with it, but they are issues that spark discussion, which I find useful. The movie was very well done. Oh! I didn’t get to point out how often the characters were looking directly into the camera or moving directly away from the camera. The level of eye-contact from the characters in this movie was unsettling. The acting was phenomenal, and I have to give Shyamalan’s directing props for that. And it was definitely interesting and enjoyable.

Mikey: The level of technical prowess across the board definitely is respectable. It meant we talked about deep stuff instead of laughing about why they were looking for stairs in a drawer. So that’s clearly high marks.

Solee: Indeed. I hope M. Night gets to feel good about this one. Because he has had to handle his fair share of critic abuse. It’s tough when your very first thing blows everyone away. They want everything that follows to meet that same bar of excellence!

Mikey: 'Cause once you got a theory of how the thing works, everybody wants the next thing to be just like the first. But he’s not a robot, and not a monkey, and he will not dance even if the beat is funky.

Solee: EXACTLY. I’ll try to hold no such high standards for whatever comes next.

Mikey: That’s good because we will be enjoying A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors next! I saw it more than once when I was young, and I can’t wait to compare it to IT, which is the whole reason I decided we needed to see it this year. It is… not exactly the Freddy Krueger movie you’re expecting (but I suspect you still need to avoid high standards).

Solee: Perfect.
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