Review of “Split”

Many of us contain many versions of ourselves. There’s the selfish version that takes the last piece of pizza, the giving version that makes charitable donations, the angry version that plots revenge, the calm version that lets slights roll off the back and so and so on. Most of us have all these versions combined into a single personality; but there are a few unfortunate souls that have had their psyche shattered into two or more different and distinct personalities by traumatic experiences that come to the forefront and take control of the body. At least, that’s what the doctor treating a mentally disturbed patient in the movie “Split” believes. To enjoy the film you have to buy in to the diagnosis. It helps that a very good actor is giving life to these various personas.

Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) suffered extreme emotional and physical abuse as a child from his mother. The result of this abuse is Kevin has 23 distinct and identifiable personalities. His psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) has a controversial theory about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): She believes the damage Kevin suffered opened up the potential of the brain allowing him and others sharing his condition to more fully access parts of his mind that are hidden from the rest of us. She believes Kevin is doing better as he’s had a job for some time without incident; however, Kevin has recently abducted three young women from the parking lot of a restaurant. Marcia, Claire and Casey (Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson and Anya Taylor-Joy) are rendered unconscious by a gas and taken by Kevin to his underground residence. Kevin, in his personality of Dennis, tells the girls they are food for the Beast but he doesn’t elaborate on what that means. Another personality, Patricia, tells the girls that Dennis is not allowed to harm them as they are meant for a higher purpose. Both Marcia and Claire attempt to escape and get locked in separate rooms apart from Casey. Casey attempts to talk to and befriend another personality named Hedwig, a nine-year old child. Despite all her efforts, Casey can’t get away and may soon discover if the Beast is real or not.

While the diagnosis of DID is somewhat controversial in the psychiatric community, James McAvoy leaves no doubt as to whether his character has the disorder in “Split.” McAvoy is fearless in his portrayal of Kevin’s various personalities. Whether it is the prim and proper Patricia, the OCD-afflicted Dennis or the precocious child Hedwig, McAvoy pours his all into each character. It is a fantastic performance that never strays into caricature or cheap theatrics. Each personality has its individual quirks and mannerisms and an easily identifiable voice. This helps to sell the entire premise of the movie. Should Kevin and his personalities not be believable the entire film falls apart.

And “Split” doesn’t fall apart. Well, it does a little bit but not from poor performances by McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley or any of the rest or the cast. The fault I see in “Split” is more in the way it never seems to be about anything specific. We are given lots of points to pay attention to with the mentally ill man, the abducted teenage girls and the caring doctor. There seems to be a point where the story is headed with the Beast, whatever that is, but overall “Split” never feels focused on one storytelling goal. Loose ends are left in a conclusion that feels more settled on than decided. A sequel is hinted at that might include at least one character from one of director M. Night Shyamalan’s earlier films, creating a cinematic universe. While I’m not against this idea I believe it lessens the impact of “Split.” It takes a strong story and sacrifices its conclusion with the hope of more movies in the future. Considering how well “Split” did at the box office in its opening weekend (early estimates put domestic box office at $40-million on a $10-million budget) the likelihood of a sequel seems high; however, I believe this film could have been quite a bit better had it been given a proper finish.

“Split” is rated PG-13 for some language, disturbing thematic content, disturbing behavior and violence. Without giving too much away, there is a tiny bit of gore briefly flashed during some of the final scenes. A woman is crushed to death. A character is shot twice with a shotgun. There is an implication of child sexual abuse. Foul language is widely scattered.

After a rough patch with some very bad movies (the end of “Signs,” “Lady in the Water,” “The Village,” “The Happening,” “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth”) writer and director M. Night Shyamalan has come back with two strong, low-budget efforts in “The Visit” and “Split.” I can only hope he continues to find his way back to his heyday (“Unbreakable,” “The Sixth Sense” and most of “Signs”). With any luck he’ll stay the course.

“Split” gets four guitars out of five.

Three new movies this week run the gamut from a family film with some controversy to what we are being told is the last entry in a long running franchise. I’ll see and review one of the following:

A Dog’s Purpose—

Gold—

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “X-Men: Apocalypse”

En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) has been alive for many lifetimes and is the leader of Egypt 5000 year ago. Born the first mutant and able to transfer his consciousness from one body to another, En Sabah Nur is being transferred into the body of a mutant with healing abilities which would likely make him nearly immortal when some of his guards turn against him and seal him within a pyramid buried deep underground. With the public finding out about mutants in the 1970’s, a cult has developed around the myth of En Sabah Nur. CIA operative Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating one of these cults in Cairo when she witnesses the awakening of En Sabah Nur but doesn’t realize what she sees. En Sabah Nur, seeing how the world has changed by absorbing information from a satellite TV connection, puts into motion a plan to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth and rule a world of only mutants. He recruits four followers giving their mutant abilities a boost. First is Storm (Alexandra Shipp) who is able to control the weather, next is Psylocke (Olivia Munn) who can project psychic energy in the form of a purple sword or whip, third is Angel (Warren Worthington III) who flies with wings of metal growing from his back and the last is Magneto (Michael Fassbender) with the ability to control metal and magnetic fields. En Sabah Nur detects the mind of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) while he is using Cerebro to look for Magneto. Overwhelming Xavier, En Sabah Nur abducts him with a plan to use his psychic abilities to contact all living minds. Xavier’s students and fellow instructors Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), along with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) join forces to stop En Sabah Nur and his Four Horsemen from bringing about an apocalypse.

Perhaps it’s superhero burnout. Perhaps it’s the release of this film close to the vastly superior “Captain America: Civil War.” Maybe it’s just the quality of this film. Whatever the reason, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is a flat, uninvolving and somewhat repetitive mix of visually exciting CGI action and mind-numbing complications leading to a predictable ending and a post-credits scene that will only excite someone steeped in X-Men comics lore. I don’t hate “X-Men: Apocalypse” but I believe it could have been better.

My main issue with the film is it never involves the audience emotionally. Even when given a chance to with the death of a young mutant, it is tossed off like something meaningless. It never feels like there are real consequences to what happens in “X-Men: Apocalypse” as the ending is telegraphed by an early scene, showing us who will be responsible for the “good” mutants beating the “bad” mutants.

If you feel like that’s a spoiler you haven’t been paying much attention to the “X-Men” movies over the years. Director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg don’t stray too far from the formula that has been the staple of X-Men and other superhero movies. While the film does drop a few hints about what may come up in future installments (including that post-credits scene), it doesn’t really stretch the lore of these characters the way “X-Men: Days of Future Past” did. That film committed what many fans thought of as an unforgivable sin and completely reset the timeline of the movie universe. This film stays locked within the lines and acts like there are hot lava alligators lurking past the comfortable and expected edges. They are characters based on comic books. They can be and do ANYTHING! They aren’t constrained by time, physics, death or any other rule we normal humans can’t violate. They brought Professor Xavier back after we watched him die in the third X-Men movie and gave us absolutely NO explanation and we all collectively went “ok.” Play with these characters and stretch them in directions that aren’t straight from the moviemaking rule book. After all, (SPOILER ALERT) Marvel comics just made Captain America a HYDRA agent. If they can do that, you guys can give audiences some surprises when it comes to these films.

“X-Men Apocalypse” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, action and destruction, sequences of violence and some suggestive images. Buildings are ripped from the ground and cars flung in the air but no loss of life is seen. One cameo appearance by an X-Men favorite leads to lots of dead bodies and some puddles of blood. Mystique is nearly choked to death. A woman and child are killed with a bow and arrow. There are other examples of mutant on mutant mayhem. I’m not exactly sure what the suggestive images are referring to as I don’t recall anything other than a couple of female costumes that might be considered such. Foul language is infrequent but there is one “F-Bomb.”

The story of “X-Men: Apocalypse” is rather convoluted but the idea behind the story is simple: Mutants are still feared and often abused or put on display by humans so En Sabah Nur uses mutants’ anger and fear to make them his soldiers. It seems fairly straightforward but for some reason Bryan Singer and the makers of the movie feel the need to throw in a great many complications, locations and action scenes to muddy the waters. “X-Men: Apocalypse” is an overwrought mess that needed to be reined in before it hit theatres.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” gets two stars out of five.

Love, music and more mutation hit screens this week. I’ll see and review at least one of these movies.

Me Before You—

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping—

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.