Review – NOT a Bowling Movie (“Split”)

M. Night Shamalamadingdong is back with another one of his so-called ‘psychological thrillers’ and this time it’s actually a cut above homicidal trees or lost water nymphs. But that’s not saying much, since his last truly blockbuster film was 2002’s Signs, a dazzling sci-fi tale about space aliens who fear water.

An exercise in how much one actor can pull off multiple personalities, James McAvoy does a terrific job playing Kevin, but that’s just the tip of his 23 alter-personalities. Kevin has been mentally banished by the more aggressive Dennis, a bespectacled psycho that snatches three young girls from a mall in broad daylight and sequesters them in some sort of underground dungeon.

The girls, frightened of this looney, try to figure out a way out of their locked room. Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marsha (Jessica Sula) are the most scared, but their outsider friend, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), seems to be the only level-headed one. We learn, in multiple flashbacks, that Casey had a shaky childhood and that explains her awkward mood.

Anyway, Dennis… I mean, Hedwig (he’s 9-years-old) comes to visit the girls and takes a shine to Casey, who starts to understand Dennis’ other head people and how to play them. There’s also ‘Patricia’ who surfaces, a British woman who’s as fastidious as she is dangerous, ‘Barry’, who is a fussy fashion designer, and others collectively known as “The Hoard”. Each has an agenda, but none more serious or secretive than Dennis who, under the guise of Barry, visits his psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) to discuss his condition and his other personalities.

The good doctor suspects all is not quite right in Barry’s head and thinks he’s up to no good. Meanwhile, Barry. . . no, I mean, Dennis. . .nuts, I mean, Hedwig shows Casey his private room and a really cool CB walkie-talkie. But just as Casey tries to call for help, Dennis appears. . .no, it was Patricia first, then Dennis shows up and promises her she will be a victim of the “beast”; something that Dennis is always going on about. What who or what exactly is the ‘beast’ ?

Fearing the worst, Dr. Fletcher calls on Dennis at his work and, whoopsie-daisy, discovers the captured girls! But that’s the least of her worries as Dennis reveals to her his darkest secret: the beast that lives within the 23 inside his head. But #24 is significantly, shall we say, different? I won’t spoil the third act prestige, but suffice to say, if you’ve seen any of the other Shyamalan’s other movies, you know what’s coming. Although this doesn’t have his usual “what a twist!” ending synonymous with all of his films (Willis was a ghost!? The Village was an experimental camp?!), it does have some mighty fine acting from the cast surrounding a simple plot.

Written and directed by Shyamalan (who appears, like Hitchcock or Stan Lee, in a cameo), he mixes the stereotypical kidnapping plot with the equally stereotypical multiple personality plot (something not really done before), and then throws in a third act Twilight Zone zinger that should have had more than the anti-climatic ending that it did. Yes, there was a (spoiler alert!) cutsie callback that garnished a chuckle at the epilogue, but even his mediocre The Visit had more of a WOW! ending that this needed.

M. Night loves his close-up’s and follow-through’s and can direct a film well, building some nice tension and excitement, but as a writer, he needs to go back and watch the original Zone or The Outer Limits to know how to deliver that one-two punch at the end. I will say that he cast well, with McAvoy leading the pack with his sharp portrayal of each of his characters; popping in and out of them, sometimes as the camera holds on him and we watch the transformation. Very cool. Buckley is excellent and almost steals  the thunder from McAvoy, while Taylor-Joy eats the camera with those big beautiful brown eyes and underlying fearless attitude.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)

Getting kidnapped is a bummer, no doubt about that. But having to deal with the constant changing personalities of your kidnappers is a whole different ball of wax. Oh, and did I mention this kidnapping takes place across the pond in England? Well, it does, so buckle up for a thrilling time as a kidnapping goes very, very wrong.

It’s jolly ol’ England and not-so jolly Victor (Eddie Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston) hatch a plan to kidnap and demand ransom for Alice, the 20-something girl of a rich family. They go and buy their kidnapping goodies at a Home Depot, grab their intended victim, and unceremoniously throw her into a soundproofed room. Alice (Gemma Arterton), is alone in a warehouse in the middle of nowhere, half-naked, and forced to look at a camera as she is photographed for the ransom note.

Vic sends the pictures to her father as a first step towards making the ransom demand. Meanwhile, Alice is humiliated and treated like a dog as neither kidnapper shows any emotion during her humiliation, however Vic does question Danny’s resolve now that this is really happening. As Vic leaves to drop off the ransom note, Danny is left guarding Alice who needs to go ‘number two’. But as Danny unties her, she attacks him with her bed pan and grabs his pistol, which she fires during the struggle between them, hitting the wall. Believing he is about to die, Danny reveals his identity to Alice: they were lovers before his time in jail and that’s why they kidnapped her!

He says his plan is to double cross Vic and to start a new life, sharing the money with Alice. Sounds good, right? So Alice seduces him, BUT pulls a switcheroo and handcuffs Danny to the bed! She tries to leave, but finds the front door locked. She grabs the gun and decides to use it to get him to tell her where the door keys are, but Danny manages to disarm her. When Vic returns he threatens Alice, but she screams for Danny and tells Vic about Danny’s intended double-cross. Playing one against the other, Vic is shocked at Danny’s betrayal, but two decided to table that discussion in lieu of collecting the ransom money.

Yeah, but Vic can’t leave it alone and confronts Danny about his betrayal after the money is collected and decides to kill Danny. Vic shoots, but only severely wounds him, causing Danny to return to Alice where the final showdown goes down. Will Alice get out of this alive? Can she still maneuver these two guys against each other? And how much is she worth in U.S. dollars anyway?

J. Blakeston, who gave us the wonderful Pitch Perfect and the dreadfully stupid The 5th Wave, also handed us this little noir gem that came and went under the radar. A nasty little piece of work with a gritty, solid script that boasts some terrific acting, great direction, and a quirky ending that’s just icing on the cake. Marsan (both Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downy, Jr) is dynamic and Compston is electric, but it’s Arterton (Quantum of Solace) that kicks butt. She was SO into her role that she insisted that she stay handcuffed and ball-gagged between takes to remain in character. Now THAT’S committed to your craft!

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