In the vein of ‘Man Bites Dog’, S.P.L.I.T. a pitch black comedy, sees a film crew follow two Dublin Hitmen throughout two days, as they go through a list of targets and a day to day routine, that involves dealing with each others flaws as they endeavor to discuss modern social issues in both a hilarious and controversial fashion. This is The Office meets Leon, 2 Hitmen, 2 Days, 1 Camera Crew.
Friend of The Hedgehog, Robbie Walsh sent across a copy of his 2016 Indie film S.P.L.I.T, So we gave it our Silver Hedgehog going over…
Actor, writer, director Robbie Walsh was frustrated. His acting options had reduced to minor unnamed parts in a few commercials. His directorial debut (Eden) had gained very little traction and he was flat broke. He was a man with a passion for his craft, but his craft had no passion for him. It is a situation that has broken many writers, directors, and actors, but not Robbie. His decision was, not to walk away from the industry, such was his passion, he decided to stand firm and create something that would get people talking, and who knows, may give his career that much needed jolt. Begging, cajoling, calling in favours and with unwavering family support, Walsh wrote and filmed S.P.L.I.T.
Script/Screenplay 8 out of 10
Taking inspiration from ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ and directors such as Luc Besson and Doug Liman, Walsh has created a mockumentary about Irish hitmen. Walsh’s script lets us into their world for a couple of days, we watch as an unknown camera crew follow Hitman 1 and Hitman 2 (after all, Hitmen do not need to publish their names) around Ireland for two days, as they conduct their business. Most documentaries start with an interviewer introducing their subject. Walsh does away with such pleasantries, and we are straight into a vehicle, watching the back of the two hitmen’s heads as they drive to the first hit, whilst they talk about Al Pacino being too dramatic and women giving dogs better names than their kids! The first hit happens and then a quick fade to opening credits. The style is set, and what follows is around 90 mins of driving from hit to hit, whilst discussing a non-politically correct topic.
What is evident, is that Walsh has decided to go for shock and comedy. Surprisingly, the shock does not come from the assassinations. This is no John Wick. The shock comes from the non-politically correct conversations that the hitmen have in between their hits. Nothing is off the table. Topics discussed include, religion, death, trans rights, race, sex, and the gay community. The conversations are the unrestrained thoughts of two men, who by their very nature are non-PC living in a very PC world. Think of questions you want to ask but are too afraid…Walsh goes there.
Through the minds of the hitmen, Walsh takes us right to the edge of cultural acceptability. At one point the Hitmen have a conversation about what religion they would prefer to shoot, and Islam came up, (amongst other religions) and just as I thought he was about to go too far, Walsh brings it back with one line said by Hitman 2…”The average Muslim has better morals than most Christians’’, and with that they both decide it’s the Baptist Church of America that they would like to shoot. It is a line that just about stays the right side of offensive and having worked with both Christian and Muslims, I can envisage the kind of debate it would cause. Walsh wanted to become noticed, and I think that’s mission accomplished.
Surprisingly, the comedy comes from how Robbie frames the character interaction using the mockumentary crew to great effect. The unseen interviewer asking the hitmen questions prior to the hits, leading to an amusing conversation of how much rope to bring along to the hit, and a cracking conversation with the two hitmen – questioning who is better, Jason Bourne or James Bond. Robbie if you are reading this, the answer of course is Bond as he is a blunt instrument, like Hitman 1. It is also the first time I have seen a victim get interviewed by a film crew pre-assassination. Whilst watching these two berate each other, it gave me vibes of excellent BBC comedy ‘Young Offenders’ I can well image these two teens growing up to become these two cantankerous hitmen.
Walsh’s script hurtles along at some pace, for the first half of the movie anyway. The hitmen are incredibly efficient. They do more hits in the first 40 mins than most Netflix series’ do in ten parts! Walsh then brings in backstories for our hitmen and attempts to expand their narrative bringing in an obscure boss and giving the hitmen long term ambitions in the process. This is where S.P.L.I.T starts to falter a little. The hits start to become further apart leaving the characters to keep us entertained, but unfortunately their bickering, interaction and exposition started to become more of the same and my interest waned a little, until the next hit came along. There is also a conversation about a stolen Mercedes that oddly is replicated in two scenes, I am not sure if that is deliberate.
Casting 10 out of 10
Calling in favours, Walsh managed to get a couple of MMA fighters and friends and family to take parts in the film. Here is my view on the main guys.
Robbie Walsh – Hitman 1
Robbie created a straight up no nonsense hitman. Hitman 1 takes pride in his work, loves his brother, but isn’t afraid to tell him when he’s wrong. Robbie suits the character’s straight personality and seems comfortable acting the thug. You forget this is a film constrained by budget and it is a convincing performance. Walsh manages to give Hitman 1 an edge and convey there is something going on behind the eyes. Walsh was believable as a trained killer, and what’s more he looked like he was enjoying every minute on screen.
David Alexander Hitman 2
Robbie’s friend David plays Hitman 2. Although a trained hitman he lives for doing things differently. Wearing a leather jacket and gloves he wishes his craft has more flare and his choice of weapons is the source of much debate with Hitman 1. Alexander is also believable as a hitman with a low understanding of the wider would around him.
Hitman 2 also has an internal conflict that Alexander must portray, on one hand he is respectful of women but on the other, his job means that such a moral compass has no place in his psyche. This leads to Alexander to play this conflict out in one scene, and I was convinced for a moment that he had such compassion, how wrong I was. The ability to turn at any moment gave Hitman 2 an unpredictable personality that contrasted well with Walsh’s strait-laced portrayal.
I suspect that although most of his scenes were scripted, Alexander improvised a lot of the conversations. Alexander’s ad-libbing has forced Walsh to keep up, making the pairs back and forth exchanges feel more natural, and the film is better for it.
Sound 7 Out Of 10
Given his equipment constraints, sound engineer Kolm Mooney has done a sterling job, armed with a boom mike (doubling up as a prop for the mockumentary), Mooney manages to capture the audio, however the lack of budget does show through. Some scenes suffer from louder background noise than is necessary, and a couple have muffled dialogue . I had to tune into what the cast were saying in parts. Kudos though to Mooney for sticking with it and giving Walsh a workable presentable soundscape.
There is no score to speak of, with only a single track in the end credits provided courtesy of Keywest.
Visual Effects and Costumes
Visual Effects and Costumes 8 out of 10
Although this is a film with plenty of kills, Walsh has kept away from blood and gore, I found this adds to the dark humour in the film. The prop guns are so realistic, I hope they are props!
The kills required some fight choreography, and I am not sure that the main cast are stunt trained. It is great to see that Walsh turned to MMA legends Cathal Pendred, Chris Fields, and John Redmond for support. The result being some entertaining kill scenes and a great use of a headlock! The scenes themselves also have a sense of dark humour about them – Walsh got everyone on the same page.
The costumes the cast chose to wear are appropriate for the characters, I did notice Walsh seems to be paying homage to Bond by wearing a long dark jacket with upturned collar and in one shot was standing staring into the distance, in what look slice a direct reference to the shot of Bond standing on a roof staring out to the London skyline.
Video Quality 8 out of 10
Donnecha Coffey is on cinematography duty for S.P.L.I.T. It is no easy job to replicate the style of a major documentary with the budget of a home movie, but Coffey pulls it off with camera work focusing on the main characters. Helpfully, Coffey choses to miss some of the punches and hits whilst the ‘Camera Crew’ readjust their position away from the fight. This is a nice touch and supports Walsh in his direction of the scenes. In one scene I noticed the camera move around the cast on screen without a cut. This reminded me of a style reminiscent of Hoyte van Hoytema (another Bond reference). The lack of budget also plays into Coffey’s hands, no ultra expensive anti shake gimbal was used, resulting in shaky cam footage perfectly in tune with the Mockumentary aesthetic. I also noticed a GoPro stuck to a car window, again adding to the Mockumentary aesthetic.
Due to the budget, there is no ultra polished HRD presentation but what Coffey achieved should be applauded.
S.P.L.I.T Overall Thoughts
As the saying goes – if necessity is the Mother of Invention, then adversity must surely be the Father of Re-invention. With S.P.L.I.T Robbie Walsh attempts to reinvent himself from actor to writer and director. S.P.L.I.T’s non-PC language deliberately created to get people talking and packing in film references, to illustrate in-depth knowledge of the medium. It’s no coincidence S.P.L.I.T bares a passing resemblance and a appears to be directly influenced by Belgian cult classic ‘Man Bites Dog’ – a mockumentary featuring a killer and a film crew and shot on a micro budget. If Man Bites Dog is a satirical swipe at the violence in the film industry, S.P.L.I.T then, is a satirical swipe at cancel culture and what people can and cannot say.
It very much feels like S.P.L.I.T is a way of Walsh placing a flag in the sand and saying ‘Hey World, This Is Me.’ What S.P.L.I.T really shows is that Walsh has a talent for making difficult subjects accessible. He is not afraid of taking a shunned topic and relating it in a language that makes the viewer react. Some might agree, some might argue, some may take offence and others might laugh. I would argue that this is what film making is all about. The trait to explore difficult subjects is displayed again a few years later with his next Film ‘The Letters.’
You can tell a lot of love and passion has gone into making S.P.L.I.T, for a low budget Indie film its ambitions are high. The acting may not be top drawer, (supporting cast of non-actors – friends and family) the fact I have seen worse acting in more expensive productions, with professional cast lists, is testament to Walsh’s directing capabilities. There is also a great idea sitting within S.P.L.I.T. – a Hitman Mockumentary with two politically illiterate men, bickering at each other, whilst conducting their business. Ramp up budget, ramp up the comedy and expand the universe a little, I can see this easily becoming a hit series or even another feature film, it is certainly a world I would like to visit again. Maybe they could go outside of Ireland putting the ‘International’ into S.P.L.I.T.