16th Feb2014

‘Split’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Austin Hayden, Shian Denovan | Written and Directed by Andy Stewart


It was two years ago when I first saw blogger-turned-filmmaker Any Stewart’s short Dysmorphia, his superb take on the body-horror genre pioneered by the likes of David Cronenberg. Since then we’ve had the likes of Éric Falardeau’s Thanatomorphose – a feature length look at the physical breakdown of the human body –  and now comes Stewart’s Split.

I was a huge fan of Dysmorphia, so I was eager to see what Andy Stewart would bring to the screen for the second “act” of his three film body-horror trilogy. Even more so considering this was set to be more of a grotesque effects-filled story (perhaps Stewart’s homage to Cronenberg’s The Fly remake?)

Guess what? I wasn’t disappointed.

Now I can’t go further without first mentioning Thanatomorphose. That film totally blew me away – director Éric Falardeau managed to make a gore-filled story that was also a metaphor for societies ills, touching on ideas of loneliness, hopelessness, bad body-image and self-loathing. And it shares a lot of similarities with Split. Both films are set in on locale (in both cases a flat) and both follow a central character as their body “breaks down” on them. However Stewart manages to tell his story in a mere 17 minutes and ultimately tells it better than Falardeau…

Like Dysmorphia before it, Split looks at one man’s extreme physical reaction to loss. Whereas Stewart’s last short film saw a man trying trying to mold himself to the exact image seen in a photo of the last time he was happy, this time round the physical changes are out of the protagonists control as his body manifests the emotional and psychological pain of a relationship break-up in physical form – his guilt and self-pity destroying him from the inside out, building from a enlarged “spot” on his chest to a full on, literal meltdown, of his flesh.

It’s interesting to note that Stewart somehow manages, effortlessly it seems, to imbue his stories and his characters with a real sense of pathos – he did it in Dysmorphia and he does it again here, even though in this case our lead character is actually the bad guy in this tale; as we find out through flashbacks that his girlfriend discovers he has seemingly cheated on her, leading to the “split” and his eventual physical breakdown.

Now I knew going into this film that it was set to feature quite a bit of effects work, but gory and gooey just don’t describe the effects of Split. The FX work by Grant Mason (Shallow Grave, The Wolfman) is tremendous, managing to be both repulsive and compelling at the same time, and also completely believeable – it’s easily some of the best effects work of any short film I’ve ever seen.

I cannot praise Split enough. It is a tour-de-force of storytelling and effects and without a doubt builds on the successes of Dysmorphia, boding well for Stewart’s third short, Ink – which you can back right now on Indiegogo.

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