January 24, 2017.
So M. Night Shyamalan is officially back they say. M Night oh M Night where art thou been M. Night? I got news to break for all you Juliet’s out there who wanted Shyamalan to rise from filmmaking hell and unleash his glorious twists and turns that made him the household name he once was. He’s still buried. Split is a movie I wanted to go into blind because of the word of mouth I received of an “almighty” twist that harkened back to his sixth sense days. Instead I got a monotonous bore that is nowhere near as informative or captivating as it tries to be.
Split stars James McAvoy as Kevin, a man who lives with twenty-three different personalities inside him with the twenty-fourth set to unleash soon. Five minutes into the movie Kevin’s personality named Dennis kidnaps three high school girls. Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula). Claire and Marcia are popular girls so intertwined with social media communication, they don’t even realize Kevin has abducted them until they look up from their cell phones after two minutes. Claire is the quiet, rebellious one who has a heap of psychological baggage of her own and is the main protagonist of the story. Split is a muddled film. It wants to be a psychological thriller that informs the audience about the extremes of mental illness but it has a hard time maintaining this attitude while balancing its inherent genre as a captive horror movie. This formula fails to keep its viewers engaged.
Once or twice throughout the first hour, I felt something I could latch on to. Something that was starting to suck me in. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (from It Follows fame) frames his shots with precision to make the audience feel trapped with our characters, such as the scene where Kevin’s female personality is first introduced in a personal, menacing way. Moments like these started to make me appreciate the look and feel that Shyamalan was going for. Unfortunately, M. Night does not care about my wishes for this to be a good movie. Repeatedly, he crafts tension filled scenes brimming with mystery only to abruptly cut to what felt like tedious lectures every fifteen minutes. Kevin and his psychologist Dr. Karen Fletcher’s one on one scenes are the most uninspiring, uninformative exposition I haven’t recalled since George Lucas’ magnum opus of expository dialogue, Attack of the Clones. Buckley’s character is an exposition garbage chute where the words that come out of her mouth slide down into a trash bin of messy storytelling.
My biggest complaint with this film is its bland storytelling. M. Night desperately tries to keep us on our heels, playing with our expectations that an out of the blue reveal is coming. That this B movie story actually has a purpose that will defy the audience’s expectations. It never comes. Honestly, the twist in Split is on the same level as Shyamalan’s worst movie, The Happening. It’s that bad. When I was actually fully conscious that M. Night had revealed his twist, I could only think of the same line that Kevin’s nine year old personality, Hedwig, tells Casey, “Are you trying to trick me? I’ll tell on you.” But for every dull beat that inhabits this story, there are performances who try to save it.
It goes without saying this is McAvoy’s best performance. Above and beyond any of his work in the X-Men franchise. His ability to transition from his many personalities in an instant and maintain his character(s) nature is incredible. Anya Taylor-Joy (the rising actress from last years The Witch) also plays her introverted disposition with complexity and nuance rarely found in actors in her age range. However, the same cannot be said of her fellow hostages who respectively give laugh out loud lines and facial expressions when faced with fear that would envelop anyone. Without McAvoy’s and Taylor-Joy’s performance, this film would be a fully fledged B-movie.
Overall, I am sad to write how disappointed Split was. I had high hopes for this film and high hopes for a good Shyamalan picture that had crafty storytelling anchored by a worthy twist. Instead I got a boring, preachy story that has occasional moments of tension, and some complex performances from McAvoy and Taylor-Joy.