Tag Archives: twist

Split (2016)

I wasn’t as down on the Shamhammer as some others were after his string of well-publicized debacles, from Lady in the Water to The Last Assbender to After Earth. On the other hand, I wasn’t has high as some others have been about his so-called comeback movie from 2015, The Visit. So I guess my expectations were cancelled out for his latest effort, Split.

As the title suggests, the film is about a crazy dude with dissociative identity disorder (played by the brilliant James McAvoy), who kidnaps three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch and Morgan, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) to a strange and unknown location somewhere. Much of the movie is about figuring out just what this guy is doing and what he wants as he shifts between 23 different personalities, each with its own name and traits. Critical to the storyline is his therapist, played by veteran actress Betty Buckley.

The first thing I will say about Split is that it’s very well-made for a low-budget film (US$9 million), once again demonstrating Shyamalan’s skills as both a writer and director. His ability to create tension and a sense of claustrophobia is as good as it’s ever been, and what I enjoyed most about the movie was the feeling that I had no idea what would happen next. And most of the time, the plot was indeed very hard to predict. You always look for a “twist” in Shyamalan movies, and I must say I quite liked what he had in store for us this time, even though it is more of a “reveal” than a twist per se.

The strengths of Shyamalan’s script and direction are anchored by three excellent performances. Of course, James McAvoy is absolutely astounding, pulling off each of his personalities with enough differences — subtle or otherwise — to tell them apart easily. At times he’s creepy or funny or brutal or pathetic or dangerous — and the fun lies in never knowing what you’re going to get.

Anya Taylor-Joy has been on my watch list ever since The Witch, and again she’s mesmerizing as the outsider Casey. There is just something about her eyes and expressions that add an air of mystery and vulnerability to her character. She’s going to be a star for years to come. And Betty Buckley is really a standout too as the therapist who has certain beliefs about dissociative identity disorder that become pertinent to the story.

Unfortunately, there were also a few things about Split that I didn’t like. As solid as the script was, there were still snippets of dialogue that came across as too contrived, conjuring up memories of Shamhammer at his pretentious worst. The film was also far too long at 117 minutes and felt that way towards the end. A compact 90-100 minutes would have made the film a lot tighter and more effective. And lastly, I wasn’t a fan of how the essential torture of these girls was sexualized. If it was merely to add tension, I would be okay with it, but I felt a lot of it was gratuitous.

In all, thanks to an interesting premise, well-crafted suspense, strong performances and a climax that doesn’t ruin the entire film, Split is good enough to be regarded as one of the better thrillers of the year. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near Shyamalan’s earliest films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but Split could very well be his best effort since The Village from 2004.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: There’s a pretty cool scene at the very end of the film right after the credits start, so make sure you stay around for that. It’s a nice little surprise.

The Boy (2016)

the boy

There have been some surprisingly good horror movies in recent years amid the usual garbage, and at no time did I think The Boy would fall in the former category. Those lowered expectations also resulted in the movie not falling in the latter either. It’s basically an intriguing idea with some effective moments, but also a film that constantly struggles to stay afloat due to its ridiculousness.

Like other female stars from successful TV shows (eg, Rose Leslie, Natalie Mortimer, Sarah Wayne Callies), The Walking Dead‘s Lauren Cohan finally gets her own horror vehicle as Greta, an American woman who heads all the way to England for a nanny gig so she can grab some cash and escape her past. Naturally, the job takes her to a massive old-fashioned mansion in a remote area, complete with creepy decor and paintings, and an elderly couple who are paying her handsomely to look after their young son, Brahms, so they can go on vacation. You already know this, of course, but Brahms is a creepy-ass looking doll made to look like a creepy-ass boy.

If you’ve seen any horror movie in your life, you’ll have a basic idea of what happens from here. Weird shit starts to happen and Greta starts questioning whether Brahms is really just a doll. At the same time we slowly get fed answers about why an old couple treats a doll like their son and what Greta is running from back home.

That said, there certainly are twists and turns to be enjoyed in The Boy, including those you might not necessarily expect and not when you might expect them. Director William Brent Bell, who previously gave us The Devil Inside, is a pretty skillful director who knows a thing or two about building a sense of dread, not showing audiences too much too soon, and using misdirection to throw audiences off track. To Bell’s credit, he doesn’t rely too much on cheap “boo” tactics, and as a result The Boy has the feel of a classier horror in the vein of something like The Conjuring, though I’m not suggesting that it is anywhere near as good.

The problem with The Boy, as you might expect, is keeping the tone serious enough despite the silly premise. There were times that I found myself chuckling at the situations, and I suspect Bell knew this was unavoidable. Watching this in a nearly empty cinema certainly helped the atmosphere, and I wonder if I would have had a different take had I watched the film at home on DVD.

Apart from a premise that constantly reminds you of how difficult it is to swallow, The Boy also has its fair share of nonsensical horror movie plot holes, inconsistencies and contrivances. It’s probably no worse than most horror movies these days, though for me they were noticeable enough to be a little irritating.

Kudos to Cohan for doing her best to keep a straight face. It’s not easy to make carrying a doll around scary,  but she certainly does the best she can with all the heavy breathing, screaming and nervous eye movements.

On the whole, The Boy is a passable attempt at creating scares out of a daft concept. Those who can’t take the premise seriously will hate it, but those who can should find it to be an above average horror experience. Personally, I liked what it was trying to achieve and its efforts to achieve it. As far as creepy doll movies go, it’s superior to 2014’s Conjuring prequel Annabelle.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Before I Go to Sleep (2014)

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I had wanted desperately to read SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, the bestselling novel about a 40-year-old woman who has that same condition as Drew Barrymore from 50 First Dates — ie, she has no short term memory and wakes up every morning with no recollection of the previous day or what happened to her since her early 20s. But alas, I was stuck on other books, so I decided to take the easy way out and watch the adaptation starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong.

While the film blatantly steals from Adam Sandler’s idea (if you can’t tell that’s a joke then I can’t help you), Before I Go to Sleep is no comedy — it’s a mystery thriller with plenty of suspense that will have every viewer trying to guess the outcome. Personally, I thought it was a perfectly solid mystery film that doesn’t manage to fully differentiate itself from similar Hollywood efforts in recent years. I enjoyed the ride while it lasted, and while I wouldn’t call it forgettable (pun unintended), the film clearly will not be as revered as its source material.

Nicole Kidman plays our protagonist, Christine Lucas, who suffers from the — let’s just call it the Drew Barrymore condition — because of an “accident” she was in about 10 years ago, or so her husband Ben (Colin Firth) tells her. Every morning, after waking up and being reminded of who she is by Ben, she receives a call from a neurologist, Dr Nasch (Mark Strong), who tells her that they’ve been secretly working together to help her remember her past.

Naturally, nothing is what it seems, and Christine slowly begins to peel away the mystery, one layer at a time like an onion. Who can she trust? Who is telling her the truth? And why did she really become this way? These are all questions that will get answered eventually, though not before writer and director Rowan Joffe (who was a writer on 28 Weeks Later and The American) throws a bunch of curve balls at us. But anyone who watched this film probably knew that there’d be twists and turns galore, and an obligatory surprise at the very end.

Knowing what’s coming, however, didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the film. Before I Go to Sleep is done and dusted in an extremely manageable (and unlikely for this day and age) 92 minutes. The short running time keeps the film tight and fast paced, and Joffe cleverly finds ways to avoid repetition despite Christine waking up in the same manner every day. Always be kept on the back foot from all the plot twists and red herrings also prevents you from thinking too much about all the potential plot holes and inconsistencies.

I know it is unpatriotic of me to say this, but I have never been the biggest fan of Nicole Kidman. I just don’t think, Oscar notwithstanding, she’s that good of an actress. Having said that, I admit she there is not much for me to complain about here. She gets the job done, I’ll leave it at that. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are also excellent and make full use of their charisma in different ways, such that both come off as trustworthy suspects.

My biggest problem with the film, and films like this in general, is that knowing a “shocking” twist is coming means you likely won’t be shocked when it finally comes. I couldn’t shake that feeling of anticipation throughout most of the film, and I doubt I’m alone when I say I more or less guessed the ending.

While it doesn’t come close to blowing me away like I was by a classic like The Usual Suspects, I think Before I Go to Sleep generally accomplishes what it set out to do. It might not be the most creative or satisfying mystery thriller you’ll come across this year, but in my opinion it’s certainly one of the better ones.

3.5 stars out of 5