HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SPLIT (2016)

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SPLIT (2016)

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With The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan had started to show a bit of a return to form after a string of disappointments lasting over a decade of his career. Now with Split, he seems to have hit his stride again with this intense and disturbing thriller.

The film tells the story of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man diagnosed with over 23 different personalties. His therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) is using Kevin to prove her theory that the belief in a personality can effect the physiology of the subject while under the influence of that personality. But unknown to Fletcher, Kevin’s alter egos have kidnaped 3 young girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch and Morgan), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson from The Last Survivors and The Edge Of Seventeen) and Marcia (Jessica Sula). His alternates say they are to be used as sacrifice for a new personality…called The Beast. Can these three young girls escape before The Beast is unleashed?

Written and directed by Shyamalan, this is an intense and suspenseful thriller that is his best work in well over a decade. It has some interesting ideas, such as strong personality disorders developing physical changes within certain personalities, for example, Dr. Fletcher’s citing of a blind woman who gained sight under the influence of one of her alternate personalities. This does not bode well when Kevin’s alternates like Patricia, Barry and Dennis keep heralding something called The Beast. We also like the three captive girls and their refusal to give up trying to escape and it certainly makes us fear what’s in store for them. Shyamalan plays this out in the confined space of Kevin’s lair, only briefly going outside to Fletcher’s office during Kevin’s sessions. This keeps things isolated and claustrophobic which adds to the overall atmosphere. Of course the last act delivers the goods and without giving any details, it is a very intense and effective ride as ‘guess who’ finally arrives. As usual with his best work, Shyamalan also gives us some solid surprises and fans of his films will be thrilled as to how this one closes out. I’d go more in depth, but this is a film that is best seen knowing as little as possible.

James McAvoy is simply brilliant as the multi-personality Kevin and a number of his alternates. He plays each one as a separate person and gives each alternate a full personality, complete with facial expressions and their own body language. If there is any minor complaint, it’s that we only see about four or five of the personalities and McAvoy’s performance begs us to want to see more of the supposed 23. The girls are all good. Taylor-Joy plays the loner and social outcast and she is not only likable, but strong, resilient and may have some things in common with her captor. Richardson’s Claire is also resilient and is the one who is the most vocal and steadfast about escaping their captivity. She and Casey butt heads sometimes as to how to proceed in their efforts, as Claire sees Casey’s waiting for the right moment as more of an excuse to not try. Sula’s Marcia is the quietest and most timid of the three basically doing what she is told and seems to be the most frightened. Rounding out is a very solid Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher, a woman who is too fascinated by her subject to see how dangerous he really is. A very good cast who make this film work so well, especially lead McAvoy and his stunning performance.

This was definitely the Shyamalan of old with some truly suspenseful moments, an unusual, but well written story and some legitimate scares and intensity. He is aided by the perfectly cast James McAvoy who gives many of the film’s chills and a solid supporting cast in those playing his three hostages and therapist. The film has a fantastically nerve-wracking last act and a final scene that will have fans on their feet. Welcome back, M. Night!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 alternate personalities.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE VISIT (2015)

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THE VISIT (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Found footage flick has fifteen year old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her thirteen year old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) traveling to stay a week with the grandparents they never met. Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) had a fight with her parents before they were born and has not spoken to them since. Becca is a wannabe filmmaker and decides to document this first meeting. They arrive at the grandparents’ rural farmhouse and everything seems fine…at first. Soon Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) seem to be exhibiting odd behavior, especially grandma at night. It is at first explained away by Pop having a slight case of dementia and Nana having a condition called Sundown Syndrome. But as the longer the kids stay, the weirder and more disturbing behavior they encounter. Something is very wrong with their grandparents and it is something far worse than simple ailments of the elderly.

As written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, this darkly humored horror is a mixed bag. On the plus side, there are some very creepy moments, as the kids sneak peeks outside their room door at night and see grandma doing some bat-crap crazy stuff. Their is also some very odd behavior in the day, such as grandpa’s habit of stockpiling his dirty Depends in a shed. There are also some sequences that bring about nervous giggles, as there are some very successful darkly comic moments, too. The downside is that after awhile we start to get tired of this routine. The behavior never leads to anything truly shocking or scary as, to be honest…we are kind of expecting what comes when we finally get it. Not only is Shyamalan a bit too renown for having a ‘twist’ in his flicks, but the big reveal is pretty much along the lines of what we were expecting. It’s no surprise. We know what Becca will discover, long before she does. There is some nice tension as we watch the kids spend their final night with Nana and Pop Pop, now that the cat is out of the old bag, but even that never really becomes nail-biting despite a violent conclusion to this ‘family’ reunion. Again, it ends the way we expect it to. Also, the film never really feels like found footage. The shots are too good and everything, including the creepy antics, always feels staged and not captured. Even with that, there is the now traditional ‘why are you still filming’ moments, especially in the last act. Finally, the character of Tyler is one of the most annoying teens captured on film in some time. He’s a germ phobic kid who fancies himself a gangsta rapper and also has decided to use female pop stars’ names in the place of curses…what? His dialog bits are an endurance test, especially when he starts rapping and Shyamalan, for some reason, has the grating youngster rap about his experience with his ‘grandparents’ over the end credits. It’s an endurance test to sit through and kills any mood the climax had previously created. This character almost singlehandedly sinks the movie. He’s that annoying.

The cast of unknowns are for the most part solid. Young Olivia DeJonge is likable and a good heroine and she is believable as a teen with artistic aspirations. Not sure what to say about Ed Oexenbould. His character is like visual fingernails on a chalkboard, so it’s hard to say if he is that bad, or based on how the character was intended by Shyamalan, was he that good? He has the worst dialog, which isn’t the actor’s fault. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are perfect as the, at first, kindly grandparents then really disturbing and creepy when Nana and Pop Pop start to get their crazy on. The two are fun and deliver goosebumps and chills appropriately and make this work as well as it does. Kathryn Hahn has limited screen time, yet somehow does convey the sense of a woman who believably had such a traumatic disagreement with her parents.

Overall, I have mixed feeling about this. There are some truly creepy moments and some uncomfortably funny ones too. The cast, for the most part, do a good job with the characters. The film stumbles by heading exactly where we are expecting it to go and over-utilizing one of the most annoying kid characters in recent memory. The film also never really feels like actual footage and the grandparents behavior gimmick starts to get tiresome at a point when it should kick into overdrive. There should have been more tension in the last act, but instead it was predictable. Worth a look, but with moderate expectations.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 depends.
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