Monday, January 30, 2017

Reserved Seating: Split (Spoiler Review)

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo with twenty-three competing personalities, all of them the nation’s top film critics.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino. Split is the new film from my hometown boy M. Night Shyamalan, fresh off his recent success with The Visit. It’s the story of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with twenty-three personalities fighting each other for the limelight: Barry is a fashion designer. Dennis has OCD. Patricia is overbearing and matronly. Hedwig is nine years old and loves Kanye West. They exist in a jumbled cacophony that drives Kevin to kidnap high schoolers Marcia (Jessica Sula), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). While they try to bite and claw their way out of their basement prison, Crumb’s psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) makes a horrifying discovery -- a twenty-fourth personality more dangerous than anything she’s ever seen.

Adam: In this early scene, we see Kevin, as Barry the fashion designer, visiting Dr. Fletcher but she’s not so sure which of Kevin’s personalities she’s dealing with.



Rob: Split is a fun enough concept that runs out of steam about an hour in.

Adam: I don’t even know if it makes it an hour. Those scenes between McAvoy and Betty Buckley are dead weight. And there are a lot of them.

Rob: And I kept waiting for a single one of them to matter. There’s no doubt that McAvoy earns his money with a fun cocktail of performances, but Shyamalan’s attention drifts too far away from narrative and character for an effective or satisfying payoff that makes it all feel worth it.

Adam: McAvoy is a talented guy and he does what he can, but I don’t think the script does him any favors. It’s a character that’s not written very well; the various personalities feel like caricatures an improviser would create at a comedy show. There’s no depth there. At the end, he’s just saying things that sound crazy for the sake of saying things that sound crazy. It doesn’t inform anything and it just makes the whole picture drag.

Rob: Exactly. It’s a series of impressions rather than fully-drawn characters.

Adam: I liked when he would say “Etc.,” but if I’m cherry picking that moment we’re in real trouble.

Rob: One of them exists solely to accidentally show Casey where some keys are! It’s obnoxious. Maybe my biggest issue, though, is that the final act meanders too long on foregone conclusions before pivoting into a ridiculous bit of fan service that had me shouting at the screen.

Adam: We’ll get to that. And don’t shout at the screen, Rob. At best it annoys the other people in the theater and at worst you’re being hyperbolic and none of that really happened.

Rob: Last spoiler warning, everyone!

Adam: They know it’s a spoiler review, Rob.
Rob: Anyway, I’m glad that Shyamalan has moved away from mainstream blockbusters and into smaller genre fare (where he belongs), but I’m still waiting for an idea as cohesive and engaging as his first three films.

Adam: What’s with the “where he belongs?”

Rob: I think the second phase of his career faltered largely because he was a genre director being pushed (by Hollywood or his own ego) into angling toward blockbusters. It feels like the pressure is off of him now, which makes me happy.

Adam: I’ve been an apologist for the guy more than most, based mostly on his run from 1999 to 2002, but the degree of cynicism and ugliness that comes with Split makes me wonder how much longer I want to stick with this guy. Let’s talk about the twist.

Rob: As you wish.

Adam: I like that first Wishmaster picture.

Rob: With all due respect to Unbreakable and its fans (who I know are legion), I hated the end of this film. The David Dunn cameo is a cop out, a sneaky way around an actual ending. The Beast’s decision to spare Casey because she’s as damaged as he is rings false and unearned; we spent a long time rooting for her so that she can do all of nothing to save the day. The final intersection of their two storylines is clunky and dull. It’s worth noting that I have the same issue with Unbreakable, a film that tells us all about a very cool final battle that it never shows us. I get that both films are meant to be origin stories. But, you know what? So is Iron Man. That movie has an ending.

Adam: I really like Unbreakable and didn’t have a final battle problem with that movie because I think it resolves its themes and a final fight or something wouldn’t have added anything. But saying all that, as a fan of Unbreakable I couldn’t have hated the ending of Split any more than I do. Let me explain why. There are four reasons. You ready?

Rob: I was born ready, Timmy.

Adam: My name’s not Timmy, Rob. I’m Adam. Or Riske. Or Mr. Riske. Or Mr. Adam Riske. Or Butch. Or Butchie. Or Butchie Boy. It’s not Timmy.

1. The way the ending is executed is terrible. The Unbreakable score is cued in the last scene with McAvoy. That’s fine. But then we cut to a diner where the news have to give McAvoy a villain name, “The Horde,” which is dumb. Then if people still don’t get it, we have an extra saying “Wasn’t there a supervillain that got locked up 15 years ago?” If you still don’t get it they continue “What was his name?” “Mr. Glass” answers Bruce Willis AND IF WE STILL DON’T GET IT he’s wearing a shirt with a name-tag revealing that he’s the same guy from Unbreakable. It’s so idiotic. Why not just show David Dunn then driving away from the diner and we see a sign for Amity Island. THEN OMG! IT’S IN THE JAWS UNIVERSE, TOO????!!!!

2. I didn’t like Split already before the Unbreakable shared universe reveal, so now that it’s tied to Unbreakable my enthusiasm for the earlier film is diminished because I have to associate it with something I don’t like. Unbreakable is about something. Split is about nothing other than franchise-building.

3. Shyamalan is basically telling us he wasted an entire movie in service of delivering a twist. He could have removed all of the therapy stuff and just told a David Dunn story in parallel with Bruce Willis and James McAvoy intersecting in the climax. If you introduced David Dunn and revealed this is an Unbreakable sequel it would have still been a huge twist (just one revealed in the middle) and been a complete movie. As it stands now, we have to wait another entire movie to tell the story Split should have told.

4. I don’t want to see an Unbreakable sequel, particularly one with a 2017 Bruce Willis, who only projects laziness and contempt on-screen these days. In 2000, he was still a guy I can root for, but 17 years later he’s completely become his unappealing public persona on-screen.

The ending of Split is a miscalculation of such a huge degree. It point blank tells the audience all that matters is shared universe building when the movie was sold as a standalone thriller without some sort of tie-in. It’s about as cynical as you can get. The movie is a clickbait article, not a story.

Rob: I couldn’t agree more. The entire thing boils down to a smug wink at the audience that made me want to rip my theater seat from the floor and throw it at the screen.

Adam: You’re not CrossFit enough for that.

Rob: I’ll never be CrossFit enough for you. Anyway, there’s been a bit of hubbub about the way Split portrays mental illness. Should we get into that?

Adam: Go ahead. I’m going to pee a little and really fast. Save my seat.
Rob: Personally, I don’t see the film as offensive to those suffering from DID (though, as a neurotypical, I might not deserve an opinion). Much like The Silence of the Lambs or A Beautiful Mind, it’s using the illness as a piece to fuel a larger character arc. Split mostly succeeds in that, I think, but it does the same character work in two hours that many superhero films do in ten minutes. Casey’s flashbacks have the same problem -- they take up way too much time for what they end up accomplishing narratively.

Adam: I found the movie much more offensive in its treatment of the Anya Taylor-Joy character than for those suffering from psychological illness. Shyamalan puts her through the ringer with her kidnapping, explains in disgusting backstory that she’s living with her sexual predator uncle and then leaves her at the end of the movie still in the care of the sexual predator uncle. I’ve heard a couple of theories saying she might tell the police woman about her uncle (which the movie doesn’t support, it’s too busy getting its kicks off the final twist) or that it sets up her as being a “super” like David Dunn and they’re going to join forces to which I say “good luck to you, because that’s too dumb for me to even comprehend.” Shyamalan uses the “flashback tragedy to inform a reserve of strength when dealing with a big bad” thing he did in Signs here in Split to a much less impactful effect. The way he exploits this girl and her history of sexual and physical abuse for the purpose of thriller mechanics offended me. You can’t introduce material like that with such insensitivity.

Rob: And with absolutely no payoff! Fan theories aside, the actual text of the film doesn’t at all imply that she’s going to do anything about anything. Kevin leaves her in the cage, the staffer finds her, and she gets in the cop car. Fade out. There’s ominous music and a thousand-yard stare. This isn’t some complex tone poem I’m too dense to understand. This is poor storytelling and a firm Mark Off for me. It’s actually the first film I’ve seen in a while that left me physically angry at the end.

Adam: Split is a big Mark Off for me too. It’s a garbage picture.

Next week Rob and I pay homage to the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert with a special Oscar show based on their classic “If We Picked the Winners” episodes. Join us then for our special episode - “If We Decided Who Won.”

Rob: Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved.

45 comments:

  1. UGH! Love "Reserved seating", don't want to be spoiled, have to wait until the end of February to see the movie in France, and way more annoyed by the fact that I have to wait this long before I can read this piece.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Urghhh, I too don't want to be spoiled, but then again I really want to read because I really like the Reserved Seating new installment.

      But, ALL of my favorite movies I can watch time and time again, and a "twist" at the end isn't the reason I love them.

      Delete
  2. I started laughing when I saw the Unbreakable twist at the end of the movie. Its a twist that only works for people who have seen Unbreakable and know that M. Night directed it. My theater was packed full of teenagers who had no idea why Bruce Willis was in this movie. Alot of people left very confused and I actually had to explain it to some people as we walked out. Such a bizarre twist. Great article guys.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow. You gentlemen are insane. Split is the first Shyamalan movie I've even liked, and the first one since Unbreakable that felt like he was telling a story he was actually interested in.

    I guess if I was going to pick an above argument to contest, it would be the 'series of impressions' line; I noticed the same characteristic in James' performance, and felt it suited the character in that these personalities are not different people inhabiting the same body... they are impressions of personality types all being performed by the same man, as a way of deflecting full insanity. The twist towards the fantastic is when the personalities then actually do begin to tamper with reality; I believe the way the movie treats DID is true enough to life to start, and begins taking its liberties with the condition once the personalities are presented as more than caricatures.

    And don't call me an idiot for not recognizing a snippet of the Unbreakable theme and then making assumptions about narrative based on it. I'm pretty glad M. Night didn't presume I would. And I'm grateful he decided to give me something open-ended and different in the ending, instead of the typical "Get away from her, you bitch!" bullshit that genre movies strive for 90% of the time. I walked away from Split in a state of full satisfaction, probably even more than I would have from most thrillers, since it was with a sense that the story I'd watched was even bigger still than what I'd been permitted to see of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never called you an idiot. I criticized a movie.

      Delete
    2. Shyamalan seemed pretty interested in telling me some story about family, love, and mood rings in The Happening.

      I have to say, I don't like Split, and I don't care for this comment either. Etcetera

      Delete
  4. i freakin looooooove unbreakable. faults and all. with a perfect ending.

    split, i heard it was the greatest ending ever, and all that jazz, but like Butchie Boy said, it serve nothing. best case, this should've been the middle of the movie where bruce come to save the day. not franchise building at the very end. a franchise build on a 61 year old man that won't be back for any of the sequels.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's a bizarre twist in that it's a twist that doesn't really do anything to inform anything that came before it. If it was removed entirely it wouldn't change Split at all. It's basically an MCU post-credits scene 17 years after the point where it would have mattered.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I really wish I could find something to take away from this movie. Right now it exists solely as an empty pit that sucks away the few moments of joy that I had during parts of the movie. It says nothing, develops nothing, and really confuses young people who didn't see Unbreakable.

    The most enjoyable part of the movie that I can still hold onto is the guy who sat next to me and was waaaay too excited when the trailer for the Chips remake played.

    Great piece guys. Loving the new column.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is perhaps the strangest concept I've seen for a movie in some time. I'm always glad to see "secret" movies. But, what's the point of any of this? Why add the Unbreakable stuff to any of it? If you're gonna put Bruce in, just put him in. Hate to say it, but I seemed to be the one person not swayed with Shamaylan's reunvention. I very much disliked the Visit, probably my least favorite movie from 2015. And now I leave Split filled with nothing but fruatration.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I loved the movie and loved what M. Night pulled off. I still can't stop thinking about how cool it was. No offense but I wish I wouldn't have read this. It's like I got the most beautiful, delicious cake for my birthday and then these two dudes came in and took a shit on it. Not cool, guys.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never would have shit on it if I'd known it was your cake.

      Delete
    2. Forget it Brent, it's Chinatown.

      Delete
    3. I should have told you it was my cake. In my defense, it had my name on it.

      Delete
    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  9. Audiences are split on Split (I'll show myself out)

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is a nihilistic fever-dream of a movie made for Trump's America.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Ha. Unbreakable is actually the only Shyamalan movie I've seen.....So from the comments, I should be prepared to watch this.

    Honestly, the reason why I WANT to see it is because James McAvoy. Offhand, I can't think of a movie I haven't loved his performance in.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have to completely disagree with this article. Shyamalan was back to his roots with an original concept told masterfully. He really chose to trust his audience with so much of the storytelling. Anya Taylor-Joy's character had a really good arc and slow burning reveal and I thought it paid off beautifully in the end. You guys are nuts. I can't wait for the Unbreakable sequel and I'm glad Shyamalan has chosen to take a turn far away from the super hero movies we see today. I think it's great to now have an origin story of both the hero and now the villain. It will make the sequel be that much better. McAvoy was brilliant and couldn't have been better. How often do we get an entire film dedicated to the villain? Not often.

    The final thing that makes this movie so good is it is its own film. Once the end title sequence hits, you could end the film there before the Willis cameo and it would be its own film. Doesn't have to be connected to anything. How different are super hero movies nowadays where every one of them seem to serve the sole purpose of setting up further sequels? It's tiring and I'm glad Shyamalan didn't waste this film trying to set up another film. It is its own great psychological thriller that can stand on its own.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michael GiammarinoJanuary 31, 2017 at 8:45 PM

      Ditto.

      Delete
    2. Stopped reading with "you guys are nuts". We can disagree.

      Delete
    3. At least we all have nuts? (half of the population disagrees). Joking, of course.

      Delete
    4. Michael GiammarinoJanuary 31, 2017 at 9:10 PM

      Thinking someone is nuts for liking/hating a movie is better than thinking they're wrong for liking/hating a movie. No one here is wrong for liking or hating Split. It's all subjective.

      Delete
    5. I never said anyone was wrong. Just gave my opinion on Split.

      Delete
    6. Michael GiammarinoJanuary 31, 2017 at 9:38 PM

      I didn't say you did. I'm saying being called nuts for liking or hating a movie is better than being called wrong.

      Delete
    7. I'm tapping out respecfully.

      Delete
    8. Michael GiammarinoJanuary 31, 2017 at 9:49 PM

      I'm sticking up for you, Adam. Maybe it's coming out the wrong way, but that's all I'm doing. All I was saying is that no one is telling you you're wrong for not liking the movie. No one's picking on you. Saying "you're nuts" is just a playful way for someone to say they disagree. That's all. Don't worry about it.

      Delete
    9. It's all good. Thanks for getting this up to 30 comments :)

      Delete
    10. I like round bouncy things that come in pairs.....:)

      Delete
    11. Like a couple of slinkys?

      Delete
    12. Got a solid 20 minutes of giggles from that. Thanks!

      Delete
  13. I think Michael hit it on the head as to how I meant it. I never said you were wrong I was just surprised is all. I still respect your opinion especially on the pod. But I will defend a movie that I think deserves praise.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Just popping in here to back Adam up and say that everyone should like what they like! I didn't like Split, but I like lots of other things!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You don't like things, Rob. You like stuff. That's just not my style. Of course we can have differing opinions on things and stuff. We can also argue without being dicks. Just don't put your dicks in my stuff.

      Delete
  15. The Split sequel should reveal that the horde is a bunch of people on a comment board arguing about M Night Shyamalan

    ReplyDelete
  16. I just watched it yesterday and had a great time with it. It´s maybe a bit too long, as in my opinion are most of Shyamalan´s movies, but on the other side I really like his slow build.
    And I loved the final twist. As soon as James Newton Howards theme started, I knew where we are going and I loved every second of that sequence.
    And if that appreciation will result in someone calling me nuts or insane, I gladly take that as a compliment. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Finally saw Split. My 3rd Favorite film of the year. M. Knight basically pulled a Star Wars and remade his own movie only 17 years later and made it fresher than any Star Wars remake. Loved almost everything about it (score was a little weak). McAvoy killed the shit out of it, it's shot perfectly, the tension is amped up throughout, the fast pace is perfectly executed (the 2 hours flew by for me). The reveals are executed tastefully throughout. My 2nd favorite of his now. Unbreakable, Split, Sixth Sense, Signs, Devil (I know, doesn't really count but I wanted five and cant include a 5th directed from him)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And I pretty much went in blind. I knew the cast but never read about it or watched a trailer. Perfect example of when that approach pays off in dividends.

      Delete