Split Blu-ray Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s accliamed thriller is now on Blu-ray/DVD from Universal Home Entertainment
The timing of the announcement that Split and Unbreakable will meet in a new M. Night Shyamalan film called Glass means we can happily blow the secret of his sort of horror, sort of super-villain origin movie that is Split. It’s a semi-sequel to Unbreakable. It’s actually a really exciting concept, a welcome adult antidote to the endless DC/Marvel blockbusters. Something smaller, muted and more serious, psychological and sophisticated but still a “super hero” movie.
And now, with Split coming out on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack as well as a myriad streaming outlets, it’s easy to revisit and re-appraise the movie that has firmly cemented Shyamalan’s comeback. Split is magnificent, really, and deeply, wonderfully weird. Everything about the movie is off. The rhythm is off. The dialogue is arch. The sense of urgency is meandering and odd. The characters don’t react to situations like we expect them to react. It’s just a weird movie. And at the center of it all, bugging out and mugging and twitching and flexing and screaming is actor James McAvoy, in what is most assuredly the most alarmingly over-the-edge performance — or performances, rather — of the year.
Spit stars The Witch‘s Anya Taylor-Joy as one of three teenage girls who, after accepting a ride home with one of the chirpy young ladies’ dad, are in turn doused with chloroform by a bespectacled assailant (McAvoy) who carjacks them and dumps them in some sort of basement dungeon. But this is no mere “trap the girls and rough them up” exploitation film. How could it be? It’s an M. Night Shyamalan film and, no matter what you think of his films, he is a director who refuses to pander to convention.
Now, as you already know, Split sees McAvoy as — initially — a goggle-wearing fiend that masks dozens of personalities that are inexplicably hard-wired into his mind and body. Soon, the terrified girls meet most — but not all — of those personas, including the wily Barry and the 9-year-old innocent, Hedwig. And while the other two teens weep in horror and react in panic, believing their fates are sealed, Taylor-Joy seems to have an odd connection with her captor(s), especially the sweet-natured Hedwig. Soon we are treated to flashback footage of Taylor-Joy’s own childhood, whose darkness might just match that of McAvoy’s broken youth.
In the middle of McAvoy fluidly — and often darkly hilariously — sliding into his different (fully-realized) personalities, we cut to his therapist (Carrie‘s Betty Buckley, who despite her advanced years still has amazing legs!) who has been using the young man as her case study and who is now getting increasingly alarmed that a new personality is emerging, that of “The Beast.”
And while you have to fully bow down to McAvoy’s fearless and unprecedented turn as the one-man-asylum-from-Hell, I really think the best performance in the piece might stem from Taylor-Joy. As in The Witch (which Split has plenty in common with, especially if you read — like I did — The Witch as an allegory of abuse and how the mind snaps in order to protect itself), it’s the actress’ stillness, her wide eyes and trembling lips, that allow us to latch on to her thoughts, to her emotions. She’s already proven herself a master of that “inner voice” that defines the best film actors. And Shyamalan exploits her craft deftly, editing fragments of flashback against her fragile beauty to paint a wrenching portrait of a little girl who almost needed this dire situation to help quiet her own demons. It’s a stunning example of a director and an actor working symbiotically together; of flesh and technology joined organically as one. If you see the film, pay special attention to this performance. Because it is something special.
The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release comes packed with juicy features, most overseen and introduced by Shymalan, who is obviously in love with his “baby,” as he should be. The first is the much-hyped alternate ending, which is introduced by Shyamalan. The director explains that he tried many times to insert this final shot into the film but found it too dark. It is, but he was wise to remove it as it really adds nothing and simply sees McAvoy sitting on a roof staring at high school girls and talking to himself. Next are a glut of deleted scenes that are classic Shyamalan flab. Pleasurable flab, however, as almost all of them involve the amazing Buckley. These scenes serve to deepen Buckley’s character and are intelligently written but would have no doubt derailed the pace of the picture. Also excised from the final cut is a key scene with the three girls chatting about their captor(s) and it probably should have been left in. The interesting thing is that all of these deleted scenes are high quality and well written and probably should have been re-edited back into the movie for an extended director’s cut. Maybe one day.
Other features include a solid making-of behind-the-scenes doc, an interview with the director and a glowing portrait of McAvoy dissecting the challenges of essaying a glut of characters and making them different and believable. All of these features are at best EPK promo fluff, however, and really don’t add up to much.
Split is an essential film and it sure is exciting for Shyamalan fans (I am one) to see him climb out of the muck and make movies that matter again.