Donnerstag, 2. Februar 2017

SPLIT - Movie Review

 Title: Split
Running Time: 117 min
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley

"The next Spielberg!" That's what Newsweek called M. Night Shyamalan after he had impressed with his six time Oscar-nominated "The Sixth Sense", the superhero thriller "Unbreakable" and Mel Gibson's last commercial hit "Signs". Then the tide turned. Big time. From 2006 to 2013, the writer-director earned himself a total of 15 Golden Raspberry nominations, winning the infamous award 6 times including accolades for Worst Director, Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay. In fact, "The Happening", "The Last Airbender" and "After Earth" are considered to be some of the biggest piles of garbage when it comes to motion pictures (especially the latter is exceptionally hated by me). The name Shyamalan became synonymous with box-office poison. His career seemed to have ended, but the Indian-American didn't give up, claiming he was simply misunderstood. Sure enough, he made "The Visit", a film that (considering his past entries) was surprisingly well acclaimed. Critics wondered if it marked the beginning of M. Night Shyamalan comeback, and now the director set out to answer that question with his latest flick.
"Split" is indeed the writer-director's return to old form. While not being a perfect film, it is an entertaining thrill ride that is fun to dive into. Revolving around a man with 23 different personalities living inside of him, this film demanded a lot from its leading actor James McAvoy. He was up to the task though, and his performance is a tour de force that makes the supporting cast look pale in comparison. McAvoy manages to play the different parts so distinctively that you often know which personality he switched into, before he even talks. Just by a look on his face or the posture of his head. And yet, his portrayal is subtle enough not to make any of the characters cartoonish. It is a blast just to see him act.
Fans of Shyamalan's early work will be pleased. The director orchestrates this claustrophobic thriller brilliantly. Rather then cutting quickly back and forth, he remains in certain shots, which immediately creates tension. Moreover he plays with off-camera space in such a way that taps into our natural fear of the unknown. West Dylan Thordson's score perfectly accompanies that style.
If however you were buying your movie ticket to see a truthful depiction of DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), then you will not quite get what you are looking for. Holding a degree in psychology myself, I feel like I have to address this. Additionally, I was lucky enough to watch this film with a friend who even has some practical experience on the matter and so obviously we discussed the realism of it all. On one hand, James McAvoy's way of transforming, as well as his characters' description of his mind as a room where the personalities sit and have to wait until they "get the light" is pretty much accurate. Also differences in gender and age between the identities are not uncommon for people with DID. Even the presented reasons for a so-called "split" are, though simplified, principally correct. On the other hand, the film does not refrain from the Hollywood cliché that there is somehow always one or more identities that are evil in nature. Later in the film it becomes even more fictitious but in such a way that I believe the audience understands that this is not how DID works. Furthermore the psychotherapist in this film is quite incompetent (as 45% of psychologists in movies are according to a study by Bischoff & Reiter, 1999). From the get-go she fails to keep a professional distance to her patient and the "facts" she explains about DID are often of speculative nature at best. To the film's defense however, these are all elements that serve the purpose of the story it tries to tell: A fanciful one, with its own philosophy.
So, when you can accept that this psychological thriller isn't fully grounded in reality and take that little leap of faith, you are in for an attentively crafted, pretty cool movie with a masterful leading performance at its center. If you are familiar with the director's first few movies, you will also be able to put this film into a different context, that will definitely enhance your experience. I certainly had a good time.

For Fans of:
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Identity (2003)
Unbreakable (2000)
Signs (2002)
Hannibal (TV Series, 2013-2015)

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