Review – Split

If you are actually a true fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s films, then I think you will be satisfied with Split. However, if you are like me and watch all movies with an open mind and free of bias, then you may find yourself disappointed with the overall product.

I was disappointed with the overall product.

Split, which is the tenth major motion picture written and directed by Shyamalan (13th if you count lesser known Praying with Anger from 1992 and Wide Awake from 1998), tells the story of three young girls who were kidnapped by a sadistic man with 23 separate personalities (even though we don’t even get to see them all). I was highly intrigued by the plot, so I knew going into it that the potential was there for a great film. Instead, I feel like I watched Saw meets The Breakfast Club or Mean Girls.  Shyamalan channeled his inner Stanley Kubrick for this one, but fell significantly short of obtaining Kubrick-like greatness.

James McAvoy plays Dennis…or was it Patricia?…or Hedwig (my personal favorite)…it was hard to keep up. All told, he played eight different characters within his split personality mental illness.

Well done on them all, Mr. McAvoy.

If you somehow aren’t familiar with James McAvoy by now, you really should be. I still find myself having to inform people who he is when I mention his name, despite having several major roles over the past ten years and being arguably one of the best actors over that same time span. Although he is probably best known for his role as the ingenious Professor X from the X-Men series, that role doesn’t do his talent any justice. His role, or roles depending on how you look at it, in Split was his best work yet. He alone is worth the price of admission.

James McAvoy as “Patricia,” one of the 23 split personalities he brilliantly portrays in Split.

I’ll even go a step further and say if this movie was released a month ago before the Oscar votes were tallied, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him earn a Best Actor nomination for this role.  Technically he still could, but a movie or an actor/actress earning Oscar acclamation for a film released at the very beginning of the cinema year is highly irregular.

In true M. Night fashion, you may have to look deeper beneath the surface to find the true message – in this case, the true message of this review.  If you notice, I said I was disappointed by the overall product. There were some things I did actually enjoy. The ending was pretty awesome (again, if you are a true fan of the other M. Night Shyamalan productions), and McAvoy was mesmerizing. In a lot of instances, a good ending can save a mediocre movie. Sadly, I didn’t find that to be the case with Split.

The deeper I got into the movie, the more I felt it dragging along at times. If you’re looking for a true “thriller,” then I think you can do better elsewhere. This movie is more action/suspense (but barely either) than thriller. If you are nervous because you aren’t a fan of scary movies, don’t worry, you’ll be safe. I personally can’t recall one true heart-stopping moment throughout the duration of this film.

Honestly, I was disappointed in Shyamalan in one specific aspect of this movie. I honestly thought he was above making a “scream-queen” movie, using eye candy to get by for the lack of cinematic substance. No disrespect to the three kidnapped girls, but I think the movie would have been a lot stronger with average looking, above-average actresses instead feeding into the horror movie stereotype of having scantily clad girls running for their lives. The ladies may be talented young actresses (particularly Anya Taylor-Joy, who I thought was very good in The Witch), but the film never gave them a great chance to show it. I felt like I was watching Halloween, or a cheesy scary movie on cable. Having regular looking characters as the focal point makes it more realistic to the audience for this type of film. I feel uncomfortable writing this, but, I think you know what I am trying to say here.

Shyamalan’s script for Split was strong at times, but like most of his other works, it leads you to a dead end. You realize that this whole movie really represented a metaphor supporting those who are different and those who are abused. The message is fine, and I absolutely support it. However, it’s hard to determine if Shyamalan truly intended for it to serve as a quasi-public service announcement, or if it became one accidentally.

Let me be clear – I actually really like M. Night Shyamalan. I like that he always reps his hometown and mine by making all his films in the Philadelphia area. I like that he is a down to earth guy who loves going to 76ers games just like me. I believe he is a talented writer and director. His style is distinctive. His ideas are truly unique. But for whatever reason, his finished products often end up lackluster.

Nonetheless, he is like the student who you know has all the potential and all the brains in the world, but somehow still gets “C”s instead of “A”s. The Sixth Sense was his last “A”. I thought Unbreakable was a solid “B”, as was The Visit. Unfortunately, the others were failures. Split may have just barely made it to a “C-“, thanks to James McAvoy’s one man band performance and a strong final two minutes. I KNOW he’s got another “A” in him.

I guess I’ll have to keep watching and waiting.