M. Night Shyamalan has been the butt of many the general filmgoers jokes and received such visible and audible ire from audiences whenever even a trailer of his plays and his name shows up. The director took a steep drop after being heralded as the next great thing following The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. But, in 2015, he broke his rotten streak and made The Visit, a truly fun, low budget horror film that really took him back to square one. While one film a full on comeback does not make, you still have to give the guy credit and realize he could be on to something. Shyamalan smartly chose to stick with the low budget studio Blumhouse for his follow up, Split which wound up dazzling audiences this past January, becoming one of his biggest and Bluhmhouse’s biggest releases ever. You can own or check out Split when it comes to Blu-ray on April 18th.
Kevin Crumb’s fractured mind has revealed 23 personalities, but one remains dangerously submerged, set to materialize and dominate the others. Kevin reaches a war for dominance among all those that rage within him, threatening his stability and impacting the survival of everyone around him.
Let’s start with the obvious; James MacAvoy is excellent in Split. This movie could be a talent demo reel for the man for years and years. MacAvoy projects extreme ranges, while also knowing how to harness it in and not getting too crazy. There is also a level of commitment to each and such dedication, you truly feel the difference in character and personality every time there is a change in the personality. This goes further and deeper than just some little changes to the sound of his voice, there are cadences, mannerisms and so much more that you almost feel its different behind the eyes as well.
MacAvoy’s co-stars don’t get to play 23 personalities during the film, but they do hold their own with him throughout. I’m not familiar with Jessic Sula, but her co-stars Anya Taylor-Joy (The film’s main protagonist) and Haley Lu Richardson I’ve seen before. Both continue the terrific work I’ve seen them do and this is a movie that will only help to continue them to grow as actors. Anya Taylor-Joy really has a tough and meaty role and she’s able to pull it off extremely well. If it wasn’t for MacAvoy bringing the thunder and really the character owning the script as much as he commands the screen, we might be able to shout some more praises for her too.
One aspect of the film that really elevated it for me and carried me through was the camera work that Shyamalan employs in the film. Night brought on Mike Gioulakis who was responsible for It Follows (Which I loved). They both know that most of this film is interiors and taking place in close quarters with a similar aesthetic throughout. So, this one takes very interesting angles and makes some intriguing movements. Split also makes some good lighting choices in key moments. What this culminates in is some pretty good intense moments in the kind of chases or sequences you may have seen done or done similar before but they feel a bit more fresh and inventive this time around.
A qualm I had is something that can some of the time come with the Shyamalan territory. There’s a backstory we get bits of here and there that come with Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey. While I do think the disturbing portion of this is handled decently and tastefully, a lot of it feels really on the nose and totally pretentious. Its so much that when it first introduced itself I mentally groaned and thought to myself “Ugh…here we go”. But, to this movie’s defense, it did play out like I worried, though I was still engaged and satisfied with how it did make due on all of this Shyamalan obviousness. It kinda felt like this was the “big” thing that this movie was hiding. However, this film’s story itself really has nothing to hide and is straightforward, its something ENTIRELY else that is the “shocker” and surprise with the movie.
Split doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot that The Visit did, but its a fine little horror jaunt in its own. James MacAvoy’s performance is the obvious highlight and really reason alone to recommend this. However, it does feature some really strong cinematography and good horror chase sequences to add for a fun time. There’s also a nice comfort to M. Night doing something that’s a bit more straight forward than usual. Issues only kind of come from a bit of a pretentiously told backstory on a character and some over-convolution in the development of what’s going on with Kevin Wendall Crumb. It does end on a surprise and kinda high note though.
Encoding: MPEG-2 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Clarity/Detail: Split comes to Blu-ray with probably the best image you can ask for on the standard Blu-ray format. Its got a nice, slick and sharp image. There is a little bit of smoothing on some of the backgrounds and whatnot, but that could be due to some of the intended lighting, camera work. This crisp picture does well with what normalcy there is in colors in the film while being able to easily handle details from the cracks and dust in the cellar to the rugs and wooden framing in Dr. Fletcher’s apartment.
Depth: Dimensional work is pretty solid. Movements are natural and smooth with no real jitter or blurring. Swooping camera movements provide a good separation and 3 dimensional feel. Interiors feel a good distancing look in the image between foreground characters and the background in the setting.
Black Levels: Blacks are deep, rich and pretty well saturated. Loss of detail in the picture if very minimal. No crushing was witnessed during this viewing of the film.
Color Reproduction: Split finds itself mainly holed up in a dank cellar atmosphere, though there are moments where colors stand out. The flashback sequences are a bit more flush with color on clothing and greens. Dr. Fletcher’s home is a bit more bold with its natural rustic coloring (Browns and the like). One of the personalities wears a yellow jacks that pops out pretty good.
Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and keep that appearance from scene to scene throughout the film. Facial details, like stubble, blemishes, make-up, lip texture cuts and veins all that fun look pretty terrific in both close ups and medium shots.
Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Descriptive Video Service, Spanish 5.1 DTS Digital Surround, French 5.1 DTS Digital Surround
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Dynamics: It was kinda weird seeing 5.1 rather than 7.1 on a brand new film for 2017, but this mix does Split very well. It features a loving devotion to the films score, though never overbearing, weaving together a nice balance with the vocals and effects. Said effects are crisp and plenty layered providing good, distinct work that give you a feel for the locations in the film. Overall, this is a fun track that will get you into and involved with the film from the open to the finish.
Low Frequency Extension: Lots of music beats as well as shot guns and some destruction/crashing into things get a thump from the subwoofer.
Surround Sound Presentation: All 5 channels gets some solid usage here. There is a lot that is done with the front 3 speakers with good traveling and sound placement accuracy. While providing a lot of good ambiance from start to finish, the rear speakers do provide little unique surprises and additions throughout.
Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are crisp with great clarity throughout. Its loud and features a very good translation of the characters’ word diction.
Split comes with the DVD edition and an UltraViolet Digital Copy of the film.
Alternate Ending with Optional Introduction By Director/Writer M. Night Shyamalan (HD, 1:37)
Deleted Scenes with Optional Introductions By Director/Writer M. Night Shyamalan (HD, 26:37)
The Making Of Split (HD, 9:50) – Night talks his journey as a person and a filmmaker that led him to where he was when he was beginning to write Split. The cast all discusses their thoughts on their script as well as who their characters are. Night also talks grabbing people from recent things that inspired him (It Follows, True Detective) to work on the film. Everyone also talks how much they appreciate it and low budget storytelling.
The Many Faces Of James MacAvoy (HD, 5:38) – This featurette goes over getting the casting just right for the role and how challenging of a job it was for MacAvoy as well as everyone having to work with him.
The Filmmaker’s Eye: M.Night Shyamalan (HD, 3:40) – After a little bit about improvising, this focuses on Night’s writing process and the fact that he “knows what he wants”. The actors talk about how he knows when he gets it and will only stop when things are at 100%.
Split is a little bit of a step back, but also its a very different movie than The Visit. Shymalan is now on a streak of not sucking, which is refreshing and actually has me looking forward to his next project like I’m Scott Mendelson or something. This Blu-ray finds strong technical merits in the video and audio departments, with some lighter extras that hit all the right beats. Split is a pretty solid pick up at the right price for those who are fans or are looking to check it out.