Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy
Genre: Horror, Thriller
A dude with multiple personality disorder kidnaps three teenage girls in order to bring about ‘The Beast.’
James. Mother Fucking. McAvoy.
Tonally disjointed, lack of any clear purpose.
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I haven’t seen an M. Night Shyamalan movie since The Last Airbender and, from what I hear, I haven’t been missing out on much. So, full disclosure, I had my expectation set very low going into this movie.
My suspicions seemed to be confirmed when, in the opening scene, James McAvoy gets in the driver seat of a car with three teenage girls parked in a crowded parking lot, sprays the two in the back seat with some sort of knockout gas and ignores the one sitting right next to him in the passenger seat (Anya Taylor-Joy) until she half-ass-edly opens the door and he sprays her too. Um. Ok. Did this dude just not see her sitting right next to him?? Why didn’t she just throw the door open and make a dash and start screaming in the middle of this, I say again, crowded parking lot… In broad day light! “Whatever, M. Night. I’m done,” I thought.
But! Holy shit, guys! As soon as you see James McAvoy go from one persona to another I was instantly hooked. This guy was a powerhouse all throughout this movie. Each persona’s mannerisms, cadence, gait, etc. were completely unrecognizable from the last. But the more impressive feat was the nuance that he put into those moments when we saw different personalities take over on screen. He single handedly made this movie work.
Eventually, through a bunch of exposition given by McAvoy’s therapist, we learn that the underlying premise of this movie is that people with split personalities can have certain personas that are left handed or diabetic or need glasses so what if one of them had super strength? Once this was revealed I got pretty giddy. I’m a big fan of taking some interesting fact or discovery and taking it one step further into the realm of fiction (Michael Crichton, anyone?) and this same logic leap worked pretty well for Unbreakable.
Unfortunately, all that potential quickly falls flat on its face.
You see, McAvoy is playing a character that has 23 different personalities, one of which is a small child. I’m assuming this persona was added in order to include some comedic relief but there was more than enough dark comedy coming from McAvoy’s other personalities. Knowing that this kid persona is lurking around in the same body as these other people completely undermines McAvoy’s ability to be scary. Even when McAvoy becomes ‘The Beast’ in the climax, menacing is the last word that comes to mind. Though some of that could be due to him goofily climbing on walls. Oh, did I forget to mention that he’s, like, suuuuuuper good at climbing cause he has long fingers? Yes. That is exactly how it’s described in the movie…
When you mix these lackluster suspense moments with the interesting, albeit exposition laden, conversations we see between McAvoy and his psychiatrist you end up having a sort of tonal whiplash. Is this movie supposed to be scary? Then why are we given all this information trying to humanize McAvoy’s condition? Is this movie supposed to make us question what a human body can do? Then why weigh it down with a bunch of scenes with girls locked in a room?
And oh, the arc of our protagonist. I’ve already mentioned how Taylor-Joy does nothing when a strange man gets in the car and knocks out two of her friends but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When the girls first wake up in this strange, locked room one her friends immediately starts trying to formulate a plan before Taylor-Joy shuts her up, saying “We don’t even know what this is yet.” We then get treated to some flash backs of Taylor-Joy hunting with her dad and uncle. Ok, cool. Chick is secretly a badass and assessing the situation. I love me some strong female characters.
Every single time one of her friends tries to escape, Taylor-Joy just sits there like a deer in headlights. There are three of them and one of this guy’s personalities is a child. Maybe try all working as a team instead of just sitting in the corner?
After several more hunting flashbacks we learn that Taylor-Joy’s uncle molested her as a kid and she never did anything about it. Ok… Man, that’s messed up. But that does put all of her actions into context. So I guess at the end her character will learn to stick up for herself and take this guy down single handedly!
The climax of the movie has Taylor-Joy cornered by ‘The Beast’ and how does she escape? ‘The Beast’ gets a good look at her and says “Oh shit, yo. You been raped? Ok, we cool.” AND THEN RUNS AWAY!
So. To recap. Girl is a victim of a terrible situation and does nothing. Then girl is put in another terrible situation again and STILL DOES NOTHING, getting her friends killed in the process. But hey, at least she’s alive still! What’s the moral here? That if you’re a victim one time then everything will work out for you in the future as long as you never stand up for yourself? Cool story, M Night. At least we’ve made it to the end.
Wait, what’s that? M. isn’t done with us yet? Shit.
Remember way back up top when I said this premise had similarities with Unbreakable? Yeah, Shyamalan agrees. Which is why we get a pre-post credit scene (also known as the last scene in the movie) of a news reporter talking about how McAvoy, who’s being called ‘The Horde’, has similarities to Mr. Glass, Samuel L. Jackson’s character from Unbreakable. Oh, and Bruce Willis is there too.
Those cases have absolutely NOTHING in common from an outsider’s perspective! One was about a domestic terrorist while the other about a man with multiple personalities. How does anyone make that connection!
But don’t worry about that little factoid, kiddos, because you know what this means? It mean’s M. Night Shyamalan now has a guy who is physically stronger and can endure more than an average human (Captain America) and a guy that has multiple personalities, one of which is super strong and can’t be killed (the Hulk). So be on the look out for M. Night Shyamalan presents: The Spookvengers in the next 4 to 6 years!
In the end, all of the good and all of the bad even out to a mediocre movie. If you’re a fan of McAvoy’s then you should absolutely see this movie; it will be worth sitting through the rest just to see him shine. Just don’t go into it expecting to have an experience that’s remotely scary or suspenseful. It really is a shame, though. If Shyamalan decided to drop the whole horror/thriller shtick then we could have ended up with an incredibly thoughtful look at how a man copes with a debilitating condition and ultimately faces his inner demons.