Mr. Shyamalan, I beg you, please stop writing your own movies.
I lost faith with M. Night Shyamalan films after the incredibly disappointing “twist” at the end of The Village. I loved The Sixth Sense and Signs and appreciated Unbreakable but after The Village we had to take a break. It was a shame to end our blossoming filmmaker/film fan relationship because I do think he is a good director. His films are visually interesting with immersive, moody atmospheres. His stories are the seeds of great ideas that could be better developed in the hands of a real screenwriter.
But Split looked interesting, and I love James McAvoy. However I was nervous going into an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Was he going to take me along for a ride and then leave me hanging once again?
I got into the movie for the most part, despite cringing at some lame dialogue in the beginning. James McAvoy plays Kevin, a man who suffers from dissociative-identity disorder and kidnaps three teenage girls in a parking lot. Each of his 23 personalities teases to a more sinister motive that the final 24th personality has planned for the three victims. As the girls meet various James McAvoys, we explore the hierarchy of the personalities in his therapy sessions, conducted by a compassionate therapist played by Betty Buckley (Pretty Little Liars).
McAvoy plays each of his characters with ease (thankfully we don’t see all 23), admirably withstanding the pressure of holding up the whole movie. At times the film borders on too much character over content and risks being a one-man James McAvoy-show. The distinctive personalities are humorous at times, breaking the tension and leaving the audience feeling a bit awkward, unsure of the intention. The tone of this thriller continues to be uneven throughout as we cut back and forth between the imprisoned girls and Kevin’s therapy sessions. The film would have been more terrifying if we were imprisoned with the girls and his personalities the whole time, instead of letting the audience breathe. The purpose that the sessions serve is so minute and ultimately pointless that we’re left feeling cheated for the time we’ve invested in the character.
Unlike the strong female lead in 10 Cloverfield Lane, that had a similar survivalist premise, these three female victims fall flat in comparison. Instead of developing the relationship between the characters organically, he cuts back and forth to a distracting backstory behind the outsider girl, Casey who is played with a bit of depth by Anya Taylor-Joy (who was also excellent in last year’s The Witch). Her exposition feels so contrived to support the big “twist” at the end that it takes away from any growth her character has shown. The other two girls are forgettable and one feels frustrated wondering why three girls couldn’t take down one man. Shyamalan tries to cover his bases here by having one girl exclaim how they “need to stop acting like victims!” But one line does not make a character and soon enough the character development takes a backseat as the personalities roll in. It’s a shame how Shyamalan has lost faith in his audience and seems convinced that explaining every detail makes for an interesting story.
By the time the end reared its sweaty, vein-pulsing head, I was holding my own head in my hands. That old Shyamalan-feeling was washing over me A word of warning: leave immediately when the film ends. Escape the ridiculous Marvel-like teaser – a painfully forced scene with a character from one of his older films. A throw back to one of your better films, does not improve the current movie. Stop trying to twist M., just stop!
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardsono, Jessica Sula