“Unbreakable” & “Split” – A Throwback Double Feature

“Glass” in now out so I wanted to review these two films that led up to this final chapter in the Shyamalan trilogy. Let’s get started with “Unbreakable.” This was Shyamalan’s construction of the comic-book hero from a grounded perspective. This script from Shyamalan was able to weave the foundation of concepts behind the idea of a normal man being in possession of special abilities. It was as realistic of an origins story that I have ever seen. It strips away the colorful costumes. The heat vision and ice breath are gone. This wasn’t a version of a hero with his chin up and his chest out.

David Dunn in this film was a broken man. His family is falling apart, and the abilities he has are subtle to the point of being nearly unnoticeable and it was fascinating to see this explored. As a viewer we got to learn of Dunn’s powers with him and the way Shyamalan wove this growth was incredibly compelling and also genuinely unpredictable. The suspension of disbelief needed for nearly every other comic-book movie was not needed in this one. It felt realistic, it felt raw at times as Dunn learned more about himself and it created as relatable of a hero as we have ever seen on the big-screen.

Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis both brought in some of their finest work to this film. They felt perfectly cast. This is still one of Willis’ most shining performances. He was tormented by these abilities at times and as he conflicted with his own rational thinking, I felt the layers of his character revealed themselves with sincerity. He felt like a common man with common problems and as his character evolves and he embraces his powers he still always felt like that normal man. Without the duality of an alter ego being needed.

He is always David Dunn, it wasn’t a Superman/Clark Kent scenario. He was always himself and with the simple addition of his raincoat the symbolism is captured with even more impact than had he put on spandex and a cape. The same goes for Jackson’s Elijah Price. A creepy man with his own backstory and reasoning to be the archetype of a villain. Simple color cues with his purple attire were subtle but striking. Through his dialogue Jackson provoked so much thought and he was the catalyst of this film.

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Unbreakable (2000) Touchstone Pictures

What sounds like the ramblings of a man who spent too many years reading comics were able to subtly lay the groundwork for a real world with heroes and villains. Throughout this story with well-thought dialogue Jackson’s character creates not only the belief system behind a real society with enhanced humans. But he also lays out the rationale behind it with theories of purpose, the science of a human’s physical make-up, and ends of spectrum’s between people who may have unknown connections.

It’s fascinating to see play out even if you have already watched it. You can always pull deeper meanings and I appreciate that very much. It’s a script that rouses questions and builds curiosity. It makes me think and I find that to be one of the most appealing qualities. But it weaves this story onto a cold somber backdrop and with slow pans and a methodical approach to the camerawork it creates a bleak atmosphere that always pulls me in.

I think it was a near perfect film. But I would have like more intensity from Willis. I think the overly solemn demeanor could have been dialed back a bit. He just felt mopey in the first half of the story. I also would have liked a little more connection to his family structure. It was given some meaning but with the screen time it received I think other areas could have been explored. Like possibly laying more of the groundwork to Mr. Glass and his turn to evil mastermind. When this moment hit in the third-act closing I would have liked another couple scenes. But as it was, I still think this is one of the all-time great films and the best from Shyamalan to date.

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Unbreakable (2000) Touchstone Pictures

Now let’s get into “Split” starring James McAvoy as Kevin, a man with 23 distinct personalities living inside him. He seems like a normal guy on the outside, but he is far from that. He has been compelled by one of his personalities to abduct three high-school girls as he awaits the unleashing of a sinister and deadly 24th personality that has yet to manifest.

This film was probably one of the most well marketed sequels in cinema history. With no connections to “Unbreakable” and coming out 16 years later. This was a standalone film with deep ties that went relatively unknown. Then the Willis cameo hit. The realization this movie was in the same world and also a functioning sequel immediately made me want to re-watch it with that knowledge going in. Simply wanting to piece together similarities, small clues, and any of the subtle connections I could find.

Sequel or not, I think this was a fantastic film. It was an intriguing script that was paired perfectly with a world-class performance from McAvoy. Much like “Unbreakable” did this one built a grounded foundation to this construction of a beast. It used some rational to the fictional science behind it and I was all in on the exploration of these personalities inside Kevin. McAvoy as I said was amazing in this role. He truly captured a unique delivery, and persona for each personality we get to see in this story, and it was fascinating and creepy to see evolve.

His mannerisms, gestures, and expressions were all their own for each individual inside and watching McAvoy flow between them was awesome. The younger cast headlined by Anya Taylor-Joy were all perfectly cast as well. Their delivery of many emotional reactions heightened the intensity of specific scenes just as needed. The oddities of McAvoy’s performance were naturally unsettling and watching Taylor-Joy, Richardson, and Sula deal with the situations they were in, and trying to find a weakness among these personalities, had me constantly on edge.

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Split (2016) Universal Pictures

Something I respect in all Shyamalan films is the unknown. And this film provided a ton of it that had me completely invested. Now I will admit that not all of Shyamalan’s story work for me but this one without question did. It was layered with intrigue. It was a tightly organized story-line that showed thought as it built the science behind the possibilities of McAvoy’s 24th personality and peeled back the emotional layers of the character at the same time. It created a plot that slowly built up the tension to what I think was a satisfying third-act.

The story didn’t try to do too much. It was able to almost silently connect itself to the world of “Unbreakable” but on its own is still a suspenseful movie that left me thinking. It complemented this story-line with grim visual appeal. The set-designs and many locations were perfectly selected to build on the already tense subject matter. The musical score was calculating and unnerving and with Shymalan’s direction it works in some nice horror undertones. I love watching this movie for the performance of McAvoy alone, but it does create foreboding atmosphere.

I would have liked the backdrop to Anya Taylor-Joy’s character developed a little quicker. I wanted to connect to her character more than just naturally feeling bad for the situation they were all in. I enjoyed the way this sub-plot evolved the character arc overall but would have liked it worked sooner in the film with more of a focus to complement McAvoy’s character more. Also, while I did enjoy the David Dunn cameo at the very end, I would have possibly liked it woven into the film earlier. I think this would have greatly increased the overall intensity of the film in the third-act but again as it was, I still love this movie.


CHECK OUT MY VIDEO REVIEW FROM OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL!


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Unbreakable (2000) Touchstone Pictures

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Unbreakable (2000) Touchstone Pictures

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Unbreakable (2000) Touchstone Pictures

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Split (2016) Universal Pictures

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Split (2016) Universal Pictures

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Split (2016) Universal Pictures

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