Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, and must try and escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.
M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan
Do you remember the crossover episode of The Critic and The Simpsons, where The Critic’s Jay Sherman comes to our beloved Springfield to judge a film festival? And Bart – while watching The Flintstones Meets the Jetsons – makes the snide comment, “Uh-oh, I smell another cheap cartoon crossover.”
I’ll just let that reference percolate for a bit…
Well, I’m a bit behind. And as I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, too much gossip and too many flapping mouths – I find that I’ve actually done well in missing out on folks’ revealing thoughts and/or spoilers about M. Night Shyamalan’s new film Split.
I have not – however – kept from reading posts proclaiming that this is “a return to form” for Shyamalan, or that “he’s back!”
I say this with some apprehension, as I simply adore The Sixth Sense and Signs. And I was an early Shyamalan supporter.
I’m definitely not on that particular “return to form” bandwagon.
Following a birthday celebration at a Philadelphia mall, Claire (The Last Survivors’ Haley Lu Richardson) and her friend Marcia (Jessica Sula), along with Claire’s father, offer a ride home to class-outcast Casey (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy). Through a series of terrifying events (the opening scene is quite intense) the girls are kidnapped by a strange man (X-Men’s James McAvoy) and taken to some sort of underground bunker. Thing is, this man has 23 distinct personalities and there is much whispering among these personalities that a powerful 24th identity is about to make his grand debut. #24 is known as “The Beast” and it becomes a race against time for the girls to escape before “The Beast” takes his first steps. Also in the picture is the kidnapper’s psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who begins to suspect that something is going on with her patient and the many personalities he has been burdened with.
James McAvoy is great as our split-personality lead. And although most of his many character moments ring true, there were several moments which did not. There’s an epic battle of personalities hinted at all throughout, and once it comes to pass (not a spoiler) it’s not as grand as I would have hoped. I think McAvoy excelled at the individual personalities, but it was his transformation scenes which were lacking. It felt over-the-top in so many moments, but I think (based on the film’s ending) that it was maybe supposed to be. I was literally hoping, as the film began – that a thriller/horror film like Split, might bring some kudos and potential awards recognition for McAvoy – come next year. But with some missteps throughout the film, I’ll have to take that hope back.
Anya Taylor-Joy proves that The Witch was no acting fluke. She brings a great deal of raw emotion to her role as the odd-ball Casey. I think the role could have been written a bit better – she felt underdrawn. I see what the flashbacks accomplished, but the payoff wasn’t strong enough. But every moment that Taylor-Joy was on-screen, she battled McAvoy for audience attention. And with McAvoy’s role being far flashier, that’s quite an undertaking. I can’t wait to see what Taylor-Joy does next!
Betty Buckley (who was the only good thing in Shyamalan’s The Crappening – excuse me – The Happening) has a substantial supporting role in the film. She brings a lot of cache to this important part, and it’s no wonder Shyamalan keeps bringing her back. She’s marvelous overall, but her performance in Split is worthy of a closer look. Her emotions and her tears draw you in, but since this is not Dr. Fletcher’s story, we don’t get much history. However, with the depth Buckley brings to the character, you’ll find yourself wanting to know much more. It’s a well-written (if intentionally underdrawn) character and a memorable performance.
I felt as though the big reveal in the film’s closing moments kind of cheapened the entire piece. I wasn’t blind to the possibility of this particular twist (early on, I thought it might go in that direction) and the world that Split shares with another Shyamalan film. But it felt tacked on and frankly changed the tone of the rest of the film we’d already seen. It was a contained piece which could have done wonderful things, but to find out it was actually a character’s origin story – meant to connect to a bigger cinematic universe? That didn’t work for me. And perhaps this will give away which film Split connected with – so don’t read the next sentence. But I prefer Shyamalan’s one-story thrillers, not his foray into potential Marvel or DC territory. I honestly hope we won’t see this character again.
Perhaps it’s my jaded personality (it comes with age), but I found the clues and foreshadowing in The Sixth Sense far more appealing and touting more of an attempt to “hide” the tips in plain sight. There were no surprises in Split. Too often, something would be referenced and you just knew that it would show up later in an important scene. “Say his name” is a perfect example.
The film was far too long and at times, boring. Look, Shyamalan shoots one hell of a film. Camera angles, lighting and so many other technical components are always in good hands with him and his crew. But dammit if this film lacked suspense and build. I found my mind wandering somewhere at the mid-point. And that’s never a good sign. Thankfully, the film never totally lost me, but it certainly dragged.
Technically well done and with some strong performances, Split’s running time is just too much. And with the entire story created to simply tie in for a potential crossover – makes it feel like a waste of time; and that Shyamalan is digging for ideas. As a completely stand-alone story with some tightening, it could have been so much more.
Jay Sherman and Homer Simpson were an inspired match-up. But this particular character/fictional universe meeting of the minds? Not so much.
Split is currently in theatres nationwide.