After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style of filmmaking with 2015's The Visit and now this edgy psychological horror romp. It's a genuinely freaky movie, packed with unsettling touches and wonderfully intense performances. And yet there's a nagging sense that the filmmaker is using a very real mental health issue for cheap thrills. Dissociative identity disorder, also known as split personality, is genuinely devastating, but here it's played for blackly comical chills.
The man suffering from this condition is Kevin (James McAvoy), and he has 23 identities battling for supremacy inside him. The ringleader is Dennis, a psychopath who is working in league with fellow alter-ego Patricia to kidnap three young women, the abused outcast Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and two classmates (Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula). As these teens try to use his personalities against each other to escape, Kevin is also attending sessions with his psychiatrist Dr Fletcher (Betty Buckley), an expert on his condition. And she has no idea what he's actually up to. Or that all of his personalities are terrified of a menacing identity they call the Beast.
Shyamalan is an expert at dropping clues into each scene, packing the dialog with innuendo and encouraging the actors into giving performances that suggest at unexpected connections and histories. As the film progresses, both Kevin and Casey reveal the most telling details of their grim pasts, allowing Shyamalan to gleefully crank up the tension. And the result is enjoyably creepy, keeping the audience off-balance with a plot that's impossible to predict and plenty of shocking mayhem along the way. At the centre, the audience is able to identify with Taylor-Joy's thoughtful Casey, a girl who has survived a nasty childhood and is determined to get out of this situation before it turns even more horrific.
Continue reading: Split Review
While it's great to see M. Night Shyamalan return to the twisty horror genre, his use of found-footage leaves the film feeling like a decent premise with nowhere to go. Presented as a documentary made by a teenager, the movie is relentlessly uninteresting, only watchable because of a few mild jolts and a blackly comical freakishness. Otherwise, the characters are too thinly drawn, and the story too gimmicky.
It opens as a single mother (Kathryn Hahn) reconnects with her parents on Facebook after 15 years estrangement. Instead of going home to see them herself, she books a holiday with her new boyfriend and sends her teen kids, cynical Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and clownish Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), to stay with Nana and Pop-pop (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie). But as Becca and Tyler videotape the experience, they begin to worry about their grandparents' sanity. Maybe it's just old age, or perhaps they are "sundowners", pensioners who go a bit mad at nighttime. And as things get progressively bizarre, both of them begin to worry that perhaps there's something locked in the basement that Nana and Pop-pop don't want them to see.
Everything on-screen is shot on cameras supposedly wielded by Becca and Tyler, although several scenes are implausible or frankly impossible. Shyamalan does a nice job creating a creepy vibe, then throws things suddenly into the frame to make the audience jump. But there isn't a single moment of proper suspense, mainly because it's all played for laughs: as if senile old people are hilarious. Until they become menacing, of course. Shyamalan pushes this idea with a very heavy hand, attempting to manipulate the audience's response by slowly dribbling out revelations that aren't particularly clever or surprising. And through it all, there's the nagging sense that nothing about the script holds water, starting with a mother's willingness to send her kids on their own to stay with parents she has avoided for a decade and a half.
Continue reading: The Visit Review
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