Split- M. Night is officially back!

Every horror fan knows that M. Night Shyamalan has had a rocky career. He’s hit some high highs, but unfortunately he’s also hit some extreme lows. In 2015 he gave us the Wayward Pines series, which I’ve yet to finish, but showed promise. He also released The Visit which falls into a weird gray area where it manages to be both awesome and awful. His latest film, Split places him firmly back into good filmmaker territory, well at least for now.

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Split follows a teen outcast (Anya Taylor-Joy) and two of her classmates (Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) that are captured by a man with multiple personalities (James McAvoy). The girls must figure out how to stay alive, and how to protect themselves from their attacker’s 24 identities.

Split relies on heavy tension and well crafted characters to hold the viewer hostage until the very end. Each one of McAvoy’s personalities is unique and feels like an actual person, or perhaps even something supernatural. He sheds personas with ease, allowing him to shift back and forth between characters. Like his captives, the audience is left waiting for him to snap and change into someone or something else.

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The film tackles issues of mental illness and abuse with an unexpected level of compassion. Split makes you feel for McAvoy’s character, even as he commits horrific crimes. There is great deal of debate about whether Dissociative Identity Disorder/Multiple Personality Disorder even exists. For the purposes of Split, DID is both a gift and a burden. McAvoy’s character, possesses a multitude of talents, due to the diverse nature of his personalities. However, it makes life difficult for him, as he essentially has 24 identities competing for control, and some of them have bad intentions. In addition to DID, Split also delves into abuse. Both the protagonist and the antagonist are victims of child abuse. This is intriguing, because in a sense it makes them kindred spirits, who have wound up on different paths.

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Split is a great theatrical horror film to kick off 2017. It’s smart, it has fully developed characters, and one hell of an ending. Hopefully M. Night can keep producing quality work like Split.

 

Morgan – What Happened to the Horror?

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There’s a reason sci-fi and horror keep bringing back the Frankenstein story. When done right, this theme is is fodder for countless philosophical questions. What happens when a being is made by man rather than nature? Is it ok to put science before ethics? What does it mean to be human? Can humanity be learned? Initially, Morgan seems like it is going to be a creepy rumination on all of these topics, but it quickly devolves into an action fueled clunker.

Morgan follows Kate Mara as a corporate representative who goes to assess the risk of a potential product. That product is Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), a lab created being that possesses abilities and intellect beyond that of human beings. If you’ll forgive me, basically she’s “More human than human.”. The group of scientists that created Morgan, have come to love her as they would another person. Amy (Rose Leslie) is particularly fond of her. She treats Morgan as a sister, or perhaps a daughter.

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After witnessing Morgan’s power, Mara decides she needs to be terminated. Initially the doctors are upset but willing to obey. However, they are unable to face the reality of killing Morgan. By then it’s too late. She has seen how easily humans will turn on her. She escapes, leaving a trail of carnage in her wake. She takes her only true friend Amy as a hostage. It’s up to Mara to track down Morgan, and regain the upper hand.

Once Morgan breaks out of the facility, the film ceases to be a horror movie in any way, shape, or form. The rest of the film is dedicated to car chases, physical fighting, and several people eating bullets. The sad thing is that all this action plays out against a beautiful backdrop of forest, fog, a serene lake, and a decaying mansion. When I was allowed a moment here and there to breathe, I could take it all in. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a different kind of film.

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This film should’ve been a slow character driven horror piece. It could’ve been too. Director Luke Scott had all the ingredients to make a chilling morality tale. The characters at first are quite engrossing. There’s a scene where Paul Giamatti is pushing Morgan in order to get her to break. I got a little teary eyed watching him lambast this poor creature. Taylor Joy brings so much to the character of Morgan. She’s articulate, and scary, and sympathetic all at the same time. Her moments with Rose Leslie are among the best in the film. This relationship should’ve been given more time to flourish. Morgan’s relationships with all the scientists should’ve been given more screen time.

There are some wonderful actors in this film, whose talents aren’t utilized at all. Toby Jones seems to have an interesting connection with Morgan, it’s unclear if he looks at her as more of a project or as an emotional being. You barely have time to ponder this, before his character hangs himself.

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Then there’s Kate Mara. The problem with Mara’s character is that her role is hindered by the final twist of the film. The twist itself is actually pretty damn good, except you can see it coming from a mile away.  They would’ve been better off cluing the audience in from the beginning and playing with that. Scott couldn’t have made the clues more obvious if he tried. Even the casting of Mara is a big red flag. (Seriously look at her face, and compare it to Morgan’s) Without the twist, Mara’s character is pointless. She doesn’t grow or change. She just beats people up and waves a gun around. She’s pretty much the protagonist in name only. If it were my script I would’ve made Rose Leslie’s character the protagonist, because she’s the one facing the biggest moral dilemma.

Morgan may be pretty to look at and contain some great performances (Not by Kate Mara) but it’s a “Hollywood” film in the worst kind of way. It tricks you into thinking it’s going to have depth, and then crams the film with cool fight scenes and noise. By the time it’s over it’s lost all value. I guess perhaps Morgan wasn’t meant to ask big questions or offer any insight, but it sure was a deceptive first act. My recommendation, watch the first half hour, then walk away.