Split (2016) Review

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Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast:  James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sulu, Betty Buckley

Plot: Three girls, are attacked, and kidnapped by a man, that to their mortal peril, is diagnosed 23 distinct personalities. They must try to escape before a terrifying, new, 24th personality referred to as ‘The Beast’, is unleashed.

Split, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is the second time he has worked with producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse productions. Its safe to say that once again the pairing has worked brilliantly, and created another Thriller/Horror masterpiece. Not only is the script and dialogue just exceptional but the acting performance of James McAvoy is pretty much perfect. It’s beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed, from any actor, ever.

His character has 23 personalities that are all completely different to one another and are all as intense, and in their own sense, terrifying in so many different ways. His personalities, in his head, are laid out to us, like 23 people sitting in a support group meeting, and each of them are fighting inside him, to stand in the light. There are a four of them, that are most prominent through the film.

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(Fashion Designer, – Barry Pictured Right)

The first two have an element of innocence to them. These being 9 year old boy with a lisp called Hedwig, and a fashion designer called Barry.

The next two are the most dangerous of the 23…


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They are firstly a man called Dennis. He has the worst possible case of OCD, and is ultra aggressive, and impulsive in his nature. The other is a woman called Miss Patricia who is very unpredictable, extremely firm, and violent at the drop of a hat.

When he appears as Hedwig, he says that Dennis and Miss Patricia keep telling him that the beast is on the move and he is coming to get them. The three girls should be scared because he’s going to come and do horrible things. We also hear Hedwig say that the beast is going to come and protect them, and make them safe. These sentences are very cryptic in their nature but all add up, to one hell of a showdown. Upon meeting the beast, its safe to say, that Hedwig, was absolutely correct, and the three girls, find themselves in a fight for their lives.

The three girls that are captured are also brilliant. Two of the girls are spoiled rich girls and the other is a quiet, reserved girl who keeps very much to herself. The contrast of character traits works really well. The quiet girl is called Casey and is portrayed by Anna Taylor-Joy. Her character, is like a big ball of elastic bands, you can unravel it all you like but you never seem to be able to reach the middle. Throughout the film, we get flashbacks of her as a young girl, and get a real insight into her abusive past. Her character development, like everything in this film, is brilliant.

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There are so many little things that happen that at first appear insignificant, but then come full circle, and leave you in awe. It’s very cleverly put together. There are scenes with the character Barry, when he goes to see his psychiatrist, that deserve the upmost attention in seeing the magic at work.

The last film M.Night Shyamalan did, called ‘The Visit’, is slow paced and full of building tension akin to a John Carpenter film. Split is the complete polar opposite. It is faced paced and there is always something happening. The tension you would expect is still there, but delivered in a different way. Instead, its more waiting in anticipation of what is going to happen next in this Roller coaster of a film. You’ll experience a range of emotions watching this film. For me, mainly, it was fear, as to what this guy is going to do next, and fear for what the three poor girls are going to be exposed to and how they are going to overpower this person(s).

The Witch (2015) Review

witch1THE WITCH (Dir- Robert Eggers, USA, 2015)

Starring- Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Harvey Scrimshaw

On the day that I saw THE WITCH I decided to make a double bill of it at my local multi-screen cinema place, even on the day where for once we saw sunshine in Manchester and it was not pissing down with rain. Starting with a morning screening of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR (which has already been reviewed on this site) a decent supernatural horror, solid enough and does its job despite it being, essentially, a J-horror transposed to India.

Then the next screening was THE WITCH, a different kind of beast, one that relies on suggestion and uncomfortable atmosphere to create something unique. The reason of comparing the two is whilst not to disparage THE OTHER SIDE…… it seems to follow the style of jump scare horror which is a pretty common place thing in the genre at the moment (especially in the mainstream side) and there’s nothing wrong with that except it becomes quite predictable and makes you expect those moments, once the creepy soundtrack goes down and then suddenly…..BOO! Whilst THE WITCH, is the sort of horror that comes along and throws expectation’s out the window and breathes life into the genre. Admittedly not seeing much of the trailer or reading the reviews, I still got wind of the hype of the film, it’s critical admiration. So naturally I was approaching with caution as there is a tendency for these things to be blown out of proportion and let you down or seem not as amazing etc.

witch2Subtitled ‘A New England folktale,’ the film takes place in the early 1600’s and whose central characters, a very devoutly religious family, immigrants from the UK, are cast out of a Puritan community and decide to set up their own homestead and farm next to a forbidding woodland area that becomes a significant focal point, even a character throughout the story. Father of the household, William (Ineson) believes they can conquer this wilderness however this should be the last thing on his mind. When his wife Katherine (Dickie) has her newborn son abducted, this starts off a chain of events that fracture the family. We see the baby taken by what looks like a sinister spectral figure, though the family believe it is a wolf, and we get a sequence that is both unnerving and clever in its execution and use of suggestion.

Finger’s are pointed at each member of the household and once the oldest son Caleb (Scrimshaw) comes back after going missing in the woods hunting for food, naked and babbling incomprehensible speech, the family start to fall apart and with the youngest siblings blaming the oldest daughter Thomasin (Taylor-Joy) as being a witch. There occurs a disturbing distrust between the parents and the children with them believing that Satan has entered their household and corrupted their offspring. Or is this something that can be more present in the real world. That they are experiencing a possible collective hallucination brought on by the failed crops and hunger that plagues the farm? The film leaves you on a uneasy balance between believing the family are subject to a supernatural attack or are collectively going insane, or is their fear and revulsion of committing sin in the eyes of the lord that has made them vulnerable to letting the witch into their home. Paranoia and distrust become the order of things, in this pre-Salem witch tale.

witch5Clues are placed in the shape of the oldest siblings discovering their sexuality and growing up, even a sense of jealous anger and hatred between mother and the oldest daughter, who is quick to recognise the hypocrisy established by the patriarchs. Thomasin even over hears that her parent’s are going to give her away to another family as they cannot support their own. This element allows Thomasin to become the focal point of the attacks from her family and aside from her father, it’s the mother and the two youngest siblings who are her accuser’s. Though suggestions in the film lead us to believe rather than being the main point of attack, Thomasin is willingly letting the witch in. Yet this is the whole point of the film in that you can read it in anyway you want, as being a tale of religious paranoia or a supernatural horror where a family are unwillingly attacked by the dark forces lying in the forest.

It is clear from the start and throughout that something nasty lurks within them woods, though this could be feeding on the intense nature of a breakdown in order of the family unit and becoming stronger because of that. One of the ideas that I felt the film could be addressing, in a subversive way, is that the family’s ignorance and strong headiness after leaving the Puritan community and being cast out for condemning them for not preaching the gospel strong enough, does not prepare them for what they encounter and that if they accepted the order of the community and stayed in it’s strong wooden walled enclave then they would not have allowed the unknown to attack them and have broken down in such a drastic manner. A possible fable of not leaving the town as you don’t know what lies beyond there and it spells certain ghastly fate. Or could this, especially for one of the character’s towards the end of the film, even be a liberating experience to escape the community and the idea of the family unit?

witch3It may sound that THE WITCH offers more question’s than answers, but that is why it works. Like last year’s IT FOLLOWS, this film takes a new alternate spin on the horror genre, that still has some of it’s classic trait’s that fans of the genre can recognise. Egger’s has mentioned one of his influences is THE SHINING and that was something noticeable, especially if you hear the sinister, atmospheric and unnerving, yet superb score by composer Mark Korven. The film is rich in its production design and detail and that is non the less helped by the director, as this is his debut feature and whom has previously had credits as a production designer. From it’s costumes to it’s sets, it steeps the film into it’s period superbly along with it’s dialogue spoken by the character’s in an olde world style of English, which is probably my academic term for describing it (any historical linguists please let us know what the correct term is, thanks).

The cast are superb with strong turns from Ineson and Dickie as the parent’s who you would expect to be a nasty, strict pair, due to their strong Christian belief’s. However they come across as loving parents, who are devout in their religious belief, yet strive to provide for their children despite the odds. The younger cast are also superb particularly Taylor-Joy and Scrimshaw, as the oldest of the offspring who hold their own against the older members of the cast. The decision to shoot the film in the 1.66:1 is also a positive aspect as rather than shoot in a wide letterbox frame, this allows the trees in the woods to become an almost characteristic and forbidding element that dwarfs and towers over the family and makes them seem insignificant.

witch4This might not appeal to many and part of me did want to see some faults and flaws in it, especially since it’s been lauded and praised by just about everyone since it’s début at Sundance last year and there’s that itch at the back of your mind that this might just all be overblown praise. Yet it deserves the praise and even a few days after seeing it, the film is still in my mind and might need a second viewing to fully take it all in.

In retrospect this is the sort of horror film that still manages to conjure some deep, intense unease throughout, that still feels scary without the use of jump moments and one that comes along and offers something vital and interesting. A new and unique take on established themes which provides further proof that the genre is stronger than ever.