Hot Take: Part of me liked Split. Part of me didn’t. You leave wanting to talk about it though and M. Night is gifted when it comes to getting people to talk about his movies.
M. Night Shyamalan has a knack for creating things people want to talk about, whether they want to see it or not. Split is a perfect example (and a perfectly placed film on the release schedule) of his ability to get people talking even without the usual overhype his previous films have had. In this case, Shyamalan’s secret weapon was James McAvoy who at even a glimpse in the trailer as he embodies multiple personalities (23 to be exact) had people very curious about Split.
For Shyamalan, though, this is a little bit of an escape from previous films. Although one could argue his last effort, The Visit, was one of his scariest efforts, Split is a more standard horror/thriller than we’re used to from the polarizing director. Films like The Happening, Lady in the Water and The Village were all a little bit scary in some way but the twists and turns of the film were so frequent and so ridiculous in some cases, it’s hard to classify them as horror films. Split, however, doesn’t really have that problem.
If you’ve seen the trailer for Split, you have a pretty good idea of what is going to unfold on screen. Three young girls (MHT favorite Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) are kidnapped by Kevin (McAvoy), a man with 23 different personalities. Well, actually, they are kidnapped by Dennis, Miss Patricia and Hedwig, three of Kevin’s more troubled personalities who are tired of people failing to recognize the collective group of personalities as different rather than one person exhibiting 23 different personalities. As the story progresses, we are introduced to some of Kevin’s other personalities and shown McAvoy’s breadth of acting talent. Split is really carried by McAvoy’s deranged performance especially when combined with Shyamalan’s talent of balancing pacing and suspense (sometimes to the detriment of his films as they build to a less than acceptable payoff for some).
Split isn’t flawless. 23 personalities might have been overkill as only a few get considerable screen time. Did we really need 23 to be intrigued by Kevin’s disorder? The female captives are talented, especially Taylor-Joy who plays Casey Cook, but their talent feels wasted here. Last year, around this time, Taylor-Joy was featured in The Witch and delivered one of the best performances of the first half of the year. Here, she’s background noise to McAvoy’s takeover. Her character’s most dramatic scenes are delivered by Izzie Coffey who plays the 5-year-old version of Casey in flashbacks.
That being said, Split is a worthwhile endeavor and a rare well-received Shyamalan film. Usually, the audience is split on his work but, in this case, there are more people pleased than dissatisfied. This might show Shyamalan a different path, too, since it is one of his more reserved efforts leaving the twists and turns in the performance of its star rather than in the material itself. It’s still safe to say M. Night’s filmmaking personae is crazy but for the first time in a while, it doesn’t feel like it’s just for the sake of being crazy an that’s some growth even if it is only modest growth.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- If You’re A Fan of Shyamalan, It Gives You Most of What You’d Expect
As a professed fan of his work, I was very satisfied with the progression of the film. It’s actually one of the rare times the film got better after thinking about it than worse, too, which is a big plus considering the ending… sorry, no spoilers, remember?
Maybe it’s unfair not leading with him as the “Pro” but his performance will be one that will be talked about by anyone who ends up discussing this film without a doubt.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Those Wooden Characters
I used to blame Zooey Deschanel for this (see The Happening) but I’m starting to realize this might be a directorial choice by M. Night Shyamalan as it looked to be watching the three young girls deliver their performances. Okay, maybe it really is just Zooey Deschanel’s fault. I can live with that.