Horror auteur M. Night Shyamalan returns to what he does best
A pumpkin won the presidency, the Power Rangers are returning to theaters, and the Pats came back from 19 points behind in the fourth quarter to win the Super Bowl. To this list of bizarre upsets, add one more: M. Night Shyamalan is back to making good horror movies. After an early trifecta of good flicks with great twists (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs), Shyamalan stumbled repeatedly, rolling out corny, self-indulgent genre-blenders (Lady in the Water, The Happening) and big-budget clunkers (The Last Airbender, After Earth) that fell flat.
But 2015’s The Visit, which returned to good ol’ campy horror, seems to have bolstered the writer-director’s confidence. His new film Split, which stars James McAvoy as a man with 23 personalities who kidnaps three girls to uncertain ends, is dark, strange, ridiculous — and not half bad.
In this newest installment of the Advocate’s Scary Movie Club, two staffers — horror movie buff Jen Levesque and total wimp Hunter Styles — took a chance on Split, which has held the box office for a few weeks now, to pretty good reviews.
Hunter Styles: I skipped, like, five Shyamalan movies in a row. But a good old abduction movie like this, which doubles down on B-movie horror tropes… Is it enough to redeem him?
Jen Levesque: I think so. This was definitely outside the weird stuff from his last few movies. I thought it was really good. At certain parts, I would hear someone in the audience gasp. I’m like: that’s nothing — pass the popcorn.
Hunter: That might have been me. The movie lulls you into a sense that it’s all going to be about mind games, but then it pulls out this physical horror component toward the end. So did you like it?
Jen: I did. Especially the beginning. The movie just drops you right into the kidnapping. But it also had some flashbacks, which tie the story together.
Hunter: Did the movie feel familiar to you?
Jen: It was a little predictable. But I feel that way about the majority of movies I see in theaters that are made for a mass audience, as opposed to underground films. I did like how McAvoy was sometimes one personality pretending to play another, like a mask. You just start to get a feel for who is who, based on his body movements and voice. I don’t know how the guy did it.
Hunter: If you can suspend disbelief enough to get behind the premise of warring personalities inside one guy, most of the movie is not supernatural. Then, at the end, it starts to lean that way. I liked how those sequences were shot — it was darkly lit, and ambiguous. you weren’t always sure what you were looking at.
Jen: It’s clear that he’s human, but he’s taking on some animal tendencies. That’s part of the twist.
Hunter: What about the setting, where these people are locked up?
Jen: I liked it. I was assuming it was in the basement of an abandoned building — somewhere vacant. Then at the end, when you see where they really are, it’s a surprise.
Hunter: All those underground scenes reminded me a little of mystery TV shows like Lost, in the sense that you never know what’s going to be through the next door. McAvoy’s 23 personalities each have a living space down there, and as the girls end up in these spaces, there’s a nightmarish feeling of endlessness, and of hopelessness.
Jen: You always hit another door. There’s no outside — just more rooms and hallways.
Hunter: It plays up the idea that the mind is like a maze. Seems fitting.
Jen: I think Shyamalan redeemed himself.
Hunter: As a horror movie wimp, I was not unhappy to realize that this was more of a psychological horror thriller than a gory horror movie. But once you’ve been to a movie so scary that you’re literally covering your eyes, you start to miss that feeling. It’s like a ride. And I missed that here. I hate to say it, but this horror movie wimp might be growing up a little bit.
Jen: Aww. Yay!
Hunter: I think the next one we review should be crazier. More underground, more indie… Let’s keep our eyes open for something less mainstream.
Jen: I agree. Yes please.