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Why We Must Fight Mediocrity At Every Turn

Last night my fiancé and I decided to watch a horror movie. It had to be a decently rated horror movie from the last 15 years that neither of us had watched. Now there are a lot of very poorly rated horror movies out there, in fact Netflix is full of them. After plenty of scrolling and passing a lot of presumably abysmal movies I came across 2016’s “Split”, starring James McAvoy and written and directed by the critically acclaimed M. Night Shyamalan. The movie had a rating of 7.3/10 on IMDB, at least 4.5 stars on Netflix, and neither of us had seen it, we were set.

Two hours later and I knew I had to write this post.

My question is, how can a budget of 9 million USD, an A-list actor in McAvoy, a very experienced director in M. Night Shyamalan and a team of no less than 8 producers and surely some of Hollywood’s best movie people…….. come up with such a weak, ridiculous and silly film? Full of bizarre plot holes that make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Spoiler alert – from here on in I will spoil the film, if you have the desire to spend 2 hours of your life unexcited and left with a feeling of ‘meh’, please go ahead and watch it. Otherwise I’ll explain why you really shouldn’t.

So we have a group of presumably 16 year old girls having a birthday party at a shopping mall. Shortly after, 3 of them are kidnapped while sat in their own parked car, the father of one of the girls is attacked before getting into the vehicle to join the girls. The ‘bad guy’ gets in instead and sprays ‘sleeping gas’ on the girls before driving them off to his ‘lair’.

Before we go any further. This happened right outside a large shopping mall, which would have dozens of CCTV cameras, the father wasn’t killed, and saw the assailant for several seconds face on, so would be able to give a good description of the guy. The setting is a city (Philadelphia I believe), so again there would be plenty of security cameras on nearby buildings. We see the case covered on TV news, meaning the alarm was raised shortly after.

Yet, throughout a ‘hostage’ situation that clearly lasts at least 3-4 days, the police completely fail to have even the slightest clue where the girls are! In fact we don’t even see them until right at the end, when they finally do turn up but only after being called and told where the girls are.

They have an abundance of CCTV, they have a description of the guy, they have a missing vehicle, they have headline news coverage. Yet the director thinks the abductor could take the girls to the local zoo and not be discovered for several days?

This is idiotic. In reality the police would identify the guy within 2-3 hours max and be checking out his home and workplace. On discovering that his workplace was a local zoo, they would have it swamped with police in 4-5 hours searching for the girls. The ‘kidnapped in broad daylight from a shopping mall by a guy who could be identified’ plot cannot possibly sit comfortably with what happens in the movie.

So why did this movie get made with such a silly and totally avoidable plot hole? Because we let it that’s why. The movie has grossed over $278 million worldwide, with a budget of just $9 million that’s surely an extremely successful project. Which will lead to his next movie idea getting the green flag right away, without anyone demanding quality.

What frustrates me here is that with just a little bit of careful thought, this idiotic plot hole could be fixed. I’m going to spend 5 minutes here coming up with an alternative start to the movie that has no such problems.

Perhaps the father drives the girls out of the city and towards their little village. They stop on the side of the road to assist a man who waves them down, claiming he has a problem with his vehicle, the father could be a mechanic perhaps so is keen to help.

The man then kills the father and gasses the girls to sleep, destroying their mobile phones and putting everyone into his van. He then drives off 250 miles away to his “lair”. The alarm is raised several hours later and the police are shown to be struggling with no leads. Perhaps the father’s car has been dumped under tarp in a field behind an old building.

My scene wouldn’t be hard to film and fixes a huge annoyance with the movie. It’s even far more frightening than a shopping mall abduction. It makes it far more likely that the girls could be taken for multiple days without being tracked down.

But no, for some reason the director was fine with the original idea, why? It’s absurd. At best it would give the guy perhaps 5 or 6 hours until the girls are discovered. The idea that I came up with in 60 seconds gives him at least 4 or 5 days and fits perfectly with the rest of the movie.

Why are we living in a world where ridiculous plot holes exist in Hollywood movies that could be fixed in 2 minutes? Surely these people want to be proud of their work? Surely they want to try to create the best horror movie ever? It appears they don’t, it doesn’t even appear that they really care about plot holes, they just need a script, a famous actor, a well known director, and some marketing to propel the project into profit.

Did they grow up wanting to work in Hollywood believing they would happily produce shoddy work like this? I bet they didn’t, I bet they grew up hoping to create cinematic classics that would be talked about for decades. Instead they collect their pay-packet (and decent profit related bonuses) and put their name to a movie that has pages and pages of 1* reviews on IMDB.com screaming about plot holes.

Is there a reason for this? I think there is. They have bought a house in Los Angeles, have a mortgage, a young kid, and are just happy to be working with a well-known director. The idea of staging an ‘intervention’ on a Monday morning to demand crappy plot lines are ditched from their movie does not enter their brain.

Anyway, if this was one isolated issue with the plot that needed to be overlooked to enjoy an otherwise excellent film I could probably do that, but it isn’t.

So we now have 3 girls who have been abducted, and who are being held in a room. The key element of the movie is that McAvoy’s character has 24 different personalities, which switch throughout the day. One moment the girls are talking to the abductor, the next they are talking to a child-like personality who is aware of the abduction and won’t end it but won’t hurt the girls either.

The girls quickly realise that some personalities are relatively ‘good’, and others are to be feared. They sit in fear of coming across an evil personality. They are told that the 24th personality is so evil that should that personality appear then ‘really bad things’ would happen.

I say ‘sit in fear’, as their attempts to escape are oddly lethargic. They are being held against their will by a stranger with multiple personalities who has already kidnapped them. One girl was briefly lifted into a room in a presumed attempt at a sexual attack but follows her friend’s advice to “pee on herself”, and moments later is returned. This is the limit to the degree of physical attacks that occur until the end of the movie.

The girls encounter various personalities, several of which seem genuinely peaceful. Yet their attempts to convince the peaceful personalities to let them go are lacklustre at best. At no point does one attempt to distract a ‘good personality’ while the others run off and look for either a means of escape or a weapon to incapacitate the abductor. They are completely obedient to the guy. Which makes sense if he has been violent, but at this point he hasn’t.

Finally, after what appears to be over a day in captivity two girls are having breakfast with the guy. While the guy is distracted with his back turned, one picks up a chair and then hits him in the back with it. This allows her to run down a corridor and away for a few moments. She could choose to hide, but no, she runs around before being captured and locked in a storage cupboard. By this point one of the other girls is in the adjacent storage cupboard, she attempted to escape via an air vent in the room, which was impressive until she then got caught herself. Why she didn’t stay up in the air vents is puzzling, the guy would have struggled to crawl down them.

At no point do the girls stop to think, “what would be an effective strategy in this unique situation?”. They have been there for hours, surely enough time to consider what strategy might work in the situation they find themselves in. Instead we get the stereotypical ‘young girls acting helpless and dumb’ narrative. The 10-year olds in Stranger Things are assumed to have more intelligence than the 17-year olds here. Surely these days this kind of gender stereotyping has gotten a little old and tiresome.

Throughout the ordeal the abductor (McAvoy) visits a woman who has been a leading expert on the type of multiple personality disorder that his character suffers from. She is visibly concerned that something is wrong as several of the personalities have emailed the woman and the abductor appears at her office two days in a row acting somewhat strangely.

We see that this woman is clearly very intelligent, she has various certificates in her office and speaks to an international conference about the condition. She is also aware that 3 girls have gone missing, as CNN or an equivalent is on in her house. Yet at no point does she consider that perhaps her patient has something to do with the abduction.

Until that is, she decides to go and visit the abductor in his underground house built into the maintenance department of the zoo. She could opt to take a police officer with her, as she knows McAvoy’s character personality soup is acting strange, but no, she goes alone.

We then reach the second moronically stupid part of the movie. This woman, this fiercely intelligent woman, respected internationally, discovers one of the girls while the abductor is in another room. She unlocks one of the storage cupboards after seeing that the light is on and boom there is a girl on the floor.

Now, at this point, what would any half intelligent person do? They would close the door and not bring to attention the fact they knew the location of the missing girl. They would then make an excuse to leave, both for their own safety and to critically, raise the alarm! The abductor wasn’t comfortable with the woman being there in the first place, so wouldn’t get in the way of her leaving.

All three girls were alive at this point, and seeing as the events took place in the zoo all the woman needs to do is get out onto the street and urge any bystander to raise the alarm, she could even raise the alarm herself if she has a phone. The police would be there in minutes and the hostage situation would have ended with no casualties. I say that as at this point the much feared 24th personality was still perhaps an hour or two from appearing.

But no, that would be too sensible and believable. Instead this woman starts talking to the girl in full earshot of the abductor! He hears and then quickly comes over and sprays the woman with the gas to send her to sleep. This is idiotic to the extreme, and suggests that the woman, like the 17-year old girls is not very smart. But we know this isn’t the case, she is portrayed as very intelligent. In other words, she is very intelligent until the plot needs her to act moronically stupid.

Coming around after being dumped in the kitchen, the woman has just has enough time to write down a note explaining that the abductor (McAvoy) has one massive weakness, if you say his real name he becomes weak and of little danger. His real name is to him what kryptonite is to Superman.

This much seen phenomenon needs to have a name. It’s where otherwise very smart characters in a movie or TV show make absurdly idiotic decisions that conveniently help move the plot along from A to B. The soul of the character is sacrificed just so the writers can move the plot to where they want it to be. Rather than work inside the realm of how these fleshed out human being would actually behave, which would take creativity and effort, they have them act like morons for a moment to ease the plot along.

At this point in the movie McAvoy’s abductor character is beginning to morph into ‘The Beast’, which is his 24th personality. The Beast is the personality that the girls have been told to fear. Rather than subtly ease into a more evil person, the audience sees the character head off out for a walk to the local train station, where he switches into a taller stronger faster being. We then see him run back to the zoo at a super human speed.

Meanwhile, back in the underground complex two of the girls are still stuck in the storage cupboards. Presumably by now they have been there for several hours. They agree between themselves that they need to escape quickly, so begin to search the many boxes inside the small storage cupboards for items that could help them escape. I’m sorry, what? They have been in these cupboards for hours and they hadn’t yet thought to look in the boxes that surrounded them? This makes no sense, it’s lazy writing. If you’re put in a cupboard with the light on, that’s full of boxes, and want to escape. Then you would probably look inside the side boxes inside the first 3 hours of being there wouldn’t you?

Meanwhile the third girl, who seems a bit more street smart, and appears have had an abusive childhood being looked after by her weird uncle, is also locked in a room. Though her room contains a computer, hanging coat, and many other items. She has been trying to break a lock for hours by hitting it. She takes a break, presumably to rest her aching arms, and watches videos on the computer of each of the 23 non Beast-like personalities talk. This is quite clever, and it’s annoying that interesting parts of the movie like this are drowned out by idiotic parts. She then realises that the keys to the door are hanging up with the coats. I’m sorry, what? Again we have a girl trapped in a room for hours, who didn’t search the room for items such as the keys? How stupid are these people supposed to be? Once she finds the keys she leaves the room and races out to look for her classmates. Unfortunately one is dead, and the other is half dead, in the process of being killed by the Beast. She finds the older woman, who is also dead. She spots the note and learns how to neutralise the Beast.

If she’d found the keys earlier she would have released her two friends and have gotten this information sooner. Two 17-year old girls are dead because after hours of being locked in a room she failed to see that the keys were hanging on the wall all the time. Again, why do all young girls in these movies have to be so useless at problem solving? I thought girls were doing better than boys at exams these days.

The Beast then chases this third girl who does shout the full name of the abductor, as expected it puts him into a confused state and drastically weakens The Beast. The Beast then tells her that using his real name “won’t work”, and so she stops! What?? Of course he will say that! She needed to repeatedly scream his full name, she already knows two classmates are dead thanks to him, and she is most likely next, why wouldn’t she do it? She has evidence that it at least partly works. This was so frustrating!

Finally after chasing her around for a while the Beast is closing in on the girl, who has a shotgun and is attempting to kill him. We then get the typical lame inability of a character to shoot another character at point-blank range, despite having ample opportunity. We’ve seen that this girl learned how to shoot as a child so presumably is skilled in the basic operation of a firearm, yet now can’t hit a large beast like entity from 3 feet away. In the end she manages to wound him and he scurries away, not to be found or captured (and thus enabling the director to produce a sequel no doubt).

At the end of the movie the girl is sitting in a police car after having a large Beast inflicted wound bandaged up on her leg in a nearby ambulance. Why is she in a police car? She was a hostage for several days and is most likely suffering from PTSD and at least needs to be fully checked over in a hospital. It’s idiotic to assume she would be released 5 minutes later. Again, why have this in a movie with a budget approaching $10 million USD? The reason is they really don’t care, they know most of their audience won’t really care either.

So there we are, the best horror movie that Netflix can offer me and that comes recommend by IMDB is full of absurd plot holes, silly errors and characters acting like morons to help the plot along.

How can a multi-billion dollar industry with all the creative minds money can buy at their disposal, with a near 100 year history to reflect on, with a world class actor leading the movie, with hugely talented support staff, come up with this crap?

Is it too much to ask that the above come up with a horror movie that is actually horrifying, that is free of giant plot holes, and that excites me? It seems that it is.

So the question is, do we accept mediocrity because that’s all that content providers offer us? Or do content providers create mediocrity because they know that we’ll accept it?

The only way to fight this is to get angry when crap is served up in front of us. Restaurants would happily sell cheap mediocre food if they didn’t fear a huge backlash and loss of business. Movie directors need to fear this too.

Only by fighting mediocrity can we ensure that it can’t live comfortably in society. If we fight it hard enough, then content creators will fear allowing it into their work. If we accept it, commercial reality will lead it to become the norm. If nobody demands a high standard, then standards will usually fall to slightly above what is acceptable where resources haven’t constrained a project. This is not a recipe for greatness. If you want to enjoy a world full of greatness, then you must fight mediocrity at every turn.

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