Five-dollar film

‘Split’ is smart and funny

Rob Alderman
Posted 3/12/17

There are monsters among us.

We’ve always known that I suppose, but probably never more than we know it now.

Our spooky childhood dreams of the boogeyman have long since been overcome by …

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Five-dollar film

‘Split’ is smart and funny

Posted

There are monsters among us.

We’ve always known that I suppose, but probably never more than we know it now.

Our spooky childhood dreams of the boogeyman have long since been overcome by real world monsters named hunger, poverty, ignorance, unkindness and apathy. The shadows in the corners of our room now look like sexual predators and the people who ignore them.

And against those monsters, we seem small and weak. The safety we felt when Daddy ran into our room to soothe our fears — when Mommy hugged away our boo-boos — we haven’t felt that in a long time. These fears require more than a light being turned on or a soft hand tickling our back and drying our tears.

And so we find ourselves in a very frightening place when we enter the world of M. Night Shyamalan’s new film, “Split,” because it is into this world that we find ourselves suddenly very close to the monsters of the world, and they are scary indeed.

I have a confession to make. I’m on the fence about Mr. Shyamalan. I have good reason I think, since he seems to be an awfully inconsistent filmmaker. At times, I think his brilliance is equal to any creator in the industry. He masterfully gives us very human stories set in extraordinary circumstances, allowing us to soar with emotion and genuine surprise.

It’s amazing to know that his hallmark twist is coming, and look diligently for it, and then still find ourselves amazed by the big reveal, which is why it is equally baffling when his movies at times fall so dull, weird, and lackluster.

I’ve come to believe that perhaps it is his brilliance that leads to his downfall. Perhaps the films we hate so much are simply the shortcomings of being willing to reach for things no one else will dare to reach for.

Regardless, I am happy to report that “Split” finds us enjoying the very best that Shyamalan has to offer, and while it isn’t flawless, it is certainly the best film he has given us since “Unbreakable.”

“Split” is smart and funny and clever and thrilling and at times, terrifying. Three girls are kidnapped by a man who has 23 distinct personalities. Yawn.

Three girls are kidnapped by a man who has 23 distinct personalities that are all aware of one another and have distinct physical attributes. That man is played by the stellar James McAvoy. WHAT?

And McAvoy is indeed worth every penny of admission. I admit to thinking that his portrayal of young Charles Xavier had him on my radar already. In a sea of subpar “X-Man” movies, McAvoy always delivered the goods, so I’m happy to report that he’s simply over the top good here. Truly. His performance is the kind of stuff that makes an actor for the rest of his or her career.

Anya Taylor-Joy is also quite good here, and I’d be remiss for not mentioning her. After grabbing our attention for her turn in last year’s break-out, “The Witch,” she finds herself in a very different story, but with no less talent.

There is a depth of strength that she shows in this film, and we are absolutely certain that if anyone is going to make it out, it will be her. She seems uniquely qualified to fight this monster, and when we find out why that is true, we are set beside ourselves.

It would be easy to simply say, “Go see this movie.” It’s really great, sure. But it’s more than that. There is a serious commentary here that is worth mentioning. in popular culture, we have seen over and over a theme that presents us with the following scenario — “Who is the real monster?”

A great example of this would be “The Walking Dead” where every episode we have to contemplate if the monsters are the hoards of zombies roaming the earth or the people who remain and do horrific things to each other in order to survive. (HINT: The people are the monsters.)

But Shyamalan doesn’t give us such an easy decision. Instead, we have to ask ourselves, “What happens when we create monsters to deal with other monsters?” In the case of “Split,” the answer doesn’t come lightly. Mom and Dad aren’t coming in to save us from our bad dreams. We are going to have to figure this one out on our own.

Rob Alderman is a graduate of Lee University, and Bethel Theological Seminary. A lover of pop culture, Alderman's film musings have been featured in Patheos, Relevant and Paste magazines.

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