From the Archives: What does Split mean for M. Night Shyamalan’s future?

From the Archives: What does Split mean for M. Night Shyamalan’s future?

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Right up front: SPOILER ALERT. I want to talk about the ending of Split, the latest thriller from Philly’s own M. Night Shyamalan. It’s the second stop on his trip back into the good graces of audiences everywhere, and is also one of his best films to date. We’re in the midst of a Shyamalanaissance, and I believe it’s because he’s finally embraced what type of filmmaker he is. Heck, ever since press for Split began popping up, I haven’t heard “Shyamalamadingdong” even once. Thank god. We were all wrong in calling him the second coming of Spielberg, and he was wrong (although mostly blameless) for going along with it. His ego inflated, his output inflated with it, and we fickle moviegoers burst it all with our pitchforks. So it goes. But now that he’s been humbly embracing his schlock sensibilities, most of us are content to let him back into the light.

“Into the light” was a reference to Split. If you didn’t get it, it means you ignored my spoiler warning. I beg of you not to read any further if you haven’t seen it. You’ll be mad if this is spoiled for you. I promise.

With Split, Shyamalan is attempting something huge by making it an official sequel to Unbreakable, potentially kicking off what I would like to call the MNSECU. I’ll let you figure out what that stands for. This is a bold move considering that much of what we see in modern superhero cinema was shaped by Unbreakable. It was released in 2000 as a character-based drama, but in execution it turned out to be a dark, brooding origin story for a rather unconventional super-powered being. During the subsequent career slump, many folks lamented that Shyamalan didn’t pursue the route of serializing the concept, further indicating that Nolan borrowed heavily from Unbreakable‘s tone when he made Batman Begins, citing it as proof of concept. An Unbreakable series could have been a success.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and Signs was fantastic flick (fight me).

So here we are, newly in receipt of an Unbreakable sequel, whose ultimate purpose was to establish a super-powered villain (and potentially a sidekick) for David Dunn. I can’t outright assume that this points to the dawn of a new franchise, but I really hope it does. Heck, maybe the one-two punch of The Last Airbender and After Earth were just Shyamalan rehearsing for a full-on comic book flick. Or maybe I’m wrong and Split is just an end cap to the story, or just a small bookmark to hold our place for a few more years until he dips into the Unbreakable sandbox once again. Time will tell.

The most impressive thing about Split is that the ties to Unbreakable are sort of after-the-fact. It could easily play as its own story in a vacuum, and its rewatch value will hinge entirely upon that quality (as well as McAvoy’s brilliantly mad performance). Many don’t agree, however. I’ve spoken to a handful of people that either didn’t get the reveal, or simply didn’t care for it, asserting that the whole movie hinges upon it, and failed to deliver up to the final moments. This is a valid criticism, and is really just a matter of taste. It would be hard to call Split a failure, but easy to think of it as underwhelming, given the circumstances.

This brings me to my point. M. Night Shyamalan has balls. After being branded the “twist” guy and failing to deliver on a huge reveal multiple times – after spearheading a career that had largely become a joke – he went and made a movie with a huge reveal that leans on a 17-year-old film that, while beloved, has almost completely been forgetternin the wake of his subsequent filmography. He gambled on people remembering a character name from Unbreakable, and presumably fought many a battle with an investor to even include it.

So the question remains: will his testicular fortitude support a new franchise? Or maybe a trilogy? Is expansion even Shyamalan’s intention? I certainly hope so. Even if it turns out to be a failure, I’d love to see the attempt (especially now that he’s teamed up with Mike Gioulakis, cinematographer of It Follows). I mean, can you imagine a super strength animal-man going toe to toe with an invincible senior citizen on the streets of Philadelphia? It’s too good an image to leave unfilmed, I say! Then again, it would be just as satisfying to preserve Unbreakable and Split as an atypical double feature.

I applaud you, Mr. Shyamalan. You listened to our biggest complaints (more Unbreakable! Better twists!) and delivered a prefect response with a single line of dialogue.

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