Notes on Split

I went to see Split on my twenty-third birthday, and I was very excited. That was partly because my birthday was the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as President and it was a way to not think about, you know, events. But it was mostly because I am an M. Night Shyamalan apologist, and he was back! I love The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and The Happening, and after a string of bad decisions, he was resurgent. He’d had a surprise hit on television with Wayward Pines and his previous film, The Visit, had been both well-received and profitable. Now it was time for his redemption story to go mainstream with his biggest success since Signs.

And it did.

Measured by return on investment, Split was Shyamalan’s most profitable movie, turning $9 million into over $250 million, and it received some of the best reviews of his career. It was number one at the US box office for three consecutive weeks (a record in Shyamalan’s filmography matched only by The Sixth Sense), it had a sequel greenlit by April, and James McAvoy is one of the year’s prototypical examples of an actor locked out of the Oscars race by genre rather than merit. M. Night Shyamalan brought his reputation back from the dead with one of the year’s most successful movies.

And I hated it.

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Weekend at Bernie’s Is Not the Film You Think It Is

Weekend at Bernie’s might be the most misunderstood film I know. It was a hit in 1989, despite bad reviews, and has had staying power since: the image of Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman propping up Bernie’s lifeless body is seared onto the cultural memory, one of those iconic cinematic images that has been parodied and homaged and referenced enough to take on a life of its own beyond the film itself. It’s a very famous film, is the point – though not exactly acclaimed – but when I watched it, I kind of felt like the first person to ever see it.

Here’s what I assumed Weekend at Bernie’s would be like: an extremely dumb, extremely wacky 1980s comedy, in the vein of Porky’s or a National Lampoon movie, that is probably not very good but has a kind of charm that not very good films from the 1980s tend to have. I knew the basic plot – two guys pretend another guy, Bernie, is alive, while staying at his place for the weekend. I assumed – either because it’s how it turns out in any given Weekend at Bernie’s-inspired TV episode, or because of the existence of Weekend at Bernie’s II – that Bernie wasn’t really dead. That our heroes found him unconscious and panicked, but, by the end of the film, Bernie would wake up, and we’d arrive at our happy ending.

Weekend at Bernie’s is something much stranger, and much more interesting.

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The Real Lesson of Get Out’s Success

Get Out is one of the best horror films this year, and it’s been a particularly good year for horror. The directorial debut of comedian Jordan Peele, Get Out is the story of Chris Washington, a young black photographer who reluctantly agrees to meet his white girlfriend’s family for the first time. Bad things happen. As well as being really, really good, Get Out was phenomenally successful, grossing $254 million over a $4.5 million budget.

If a movie is critically acclaimed, financially successful and not a blockbuster, chances are that its financial success will be followed by a series of articles on what lessons Hollywood should take from its success. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s predictable enough that I wasn’t surprised when it happened to Get Out.

I hate these articles.

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In Defense of The Happening (Yes, Really)

M. Night Shyamalan was the worst director in the world until he wasn’t, the butt of endless jokes until he wasn’t, and a talentless hack who made two good films twenty years ago by fluke until he wasn’t. He spent almost a decade in the critical doghouse from 2006’s Lady in the Water until his first tentative steps towards redemption with 2015’s The Visit. Now, he’s back on top thanks to the incredible success of Split, which was lauded by critics as a welcome return to form and made a tidy profit somewhere in the region of a quarter of a billion dollars on a budget of less than ten million.

Here’s the problem: Split is an awful pile of crap. Worst still, he already made the movie that critics seem to think Split is – a great B-movie directed in the style of Hitchcock – nine years ago. Almost universally panned at the time, its reputation has only grown worse over the years, largely, I suspect, due to people on the Internet who’ve definitely never seen it using it as a cheap punchline. But what if it’s not one of the worst movies ever made? What if it’s sincerely enjoyable and great?

I’m not the first person to defend this movie, but I’m one of the few whose praise is full-throated and unapologetic. No caveats, no cop-outs. I think it’s a near-perfect execution of its concept and I wish I could take away all the acclaim that others have heaped on Split and give it to this movie instead.

I love The Happening.

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A Town Called Fortitude

How do you talk about a show influenced by Twin Peaks without burying it in the shadow of Twin Peaks? Twin Peaks is widely considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time, and certainly one of the most important. Now more than ever we are awash in a sea of shows – good and bad – that follow an investigation into a murder or disappearance in a small town that kicks up buried secrets and drags unspoken darkness into the light. And whether a show like that is good or bad, someone is going to compare it to Twin Peaks.

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