It was sheer coincidence that I happened to watch Night Shyamalan’s classic movie, The Sixth Sense, on TV, the day before I watched his latest offering to movie goers and aficionados of the horror genre – Split.
I am not a big fan of horror movies. Conjuring, Poltergeist, even Jaws – I watched them through partially covered eyes and fully covered ears. But with Sixth Sense I knew Night Shyamalan had achieved the impossible (according to me) – a horror of a movie along with a story line and a denouncement even Dame Agatha would be proud of. This was reaffirmed with his The Village and After Earth. These movies showed his ability to not just scare us, but force us to continue to worry about the monsters under the bed and the skeletons in the cupboard, way after the popcorn is digested and way, way after the movie has disappeared even from local TV channels. The creeping sense of fear and anticipation of horror as we watch his movies – stuff that classics are made of. In After Earth, he turns our normal fear of the “bogey man” into an all-consuming, all-pervading monster that is ever present in the mind of every child and adult. Beautiful.
So what about his latest movie, Split?
Actually the setting was perfect. I went to the movie at 10:40 PM (closer to the witching hour), with my daughters and three of their friends. I would have preferred a less scarier movie like “Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya”, but they pooh-poohed all my fears. As we entered the theater in Pune’s Phoenix Mall’s PVR Cinemas, it was actually empty. We were the first ones in. And not many people came afterwards. By the time the movie started, I was in an heightened sense of fear. I worried if I would look silly in front of these girls who were nonchalantly getting ready to watch the horror movie.
Once the movie started, I am afraid to say (pun intended), that I did not have to close my eyes or my ears. Nor did I have to pretend to be brave. There was nothing much in terms of suspense, horror or even a pretense to scare. The story was simple – as a result of childhood abuse by his mother, James McAvoy ( more about his acting later!) develops these different personalities, each calculated to saving/distracting/protecting him from reality. The film starts on a scary note – especially to parents all over the world – when three teenagers are abducted in broad daylight, in the parking lot of a mall, by James McAvoy. After that the story pretty much hits rock bottom. (Read the basic story in Wikipedia).
In one word, James McAvoy. His ability to move seamlessly between multiple personalities is amazing. Sure, I loved his acting in the X-men series, but he takes it to a new level in Split. He single-handedly carries the movie on his shoulders. The way he alters his walk, his posture, and his eyes with every personality – this is something every actor ought to watch and learn from.
Is there a story? If it is, it is hidden from sight as the characters spew out a bunch of psychological terms that refuses to draw our attention. The story is basic, puerile even, and the need to scare dominates any attempt to move it forward. The scenes shift back and forth between the flashbacks of Casey (one of the abducted teenagers who has also been subjected to sexual abuse as a child) and Kevin (James McAvoy). As the last scene ends, we are too bored (and relieved) to even wonder why it ended the way it ended.
All in all, not Night Shyamalan’s best effort. It does not even amount to mediocre.
2 out of 5 stars. Only because of James McAvoy. (Sixth Sense is a 5).
So should you watch it?
Yes, if you like James McAvoy and yes, if you have nothing else to do on a Saturday evening.