Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, they must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson, Sterling K. Brown
Rated: PG-13 (disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language)
By Matt Greene
Few directors inspire more intense reactions than Shyamalan. Starting out on the highest-of-highs (Sixth Sense) before steadily falling to the lowest-of-lows (Happening), his career wasn’t so much a roller coaster as a log-flume-drop with seemingly no end. So while 2014’s Visit was a nice rise back to quality, Split is a true return. A bold, original vision that harkens his earlier work; a fascinating mixture of drama, horror and psychological world-building.
Following the recent trend of “kidnapped-and-trapped-with-a-crazy-man” (10 Cloverfield Lane, Room), a trio of teenage girls are captured by a disturbed man (McAvoy) with 23 different split personalities. It’s clear Shyamalan did extensive research, as the attention to and mentions of real-life disorder case studies is impressive. McAvoy’s giant performance had every chance to be obnoxiously overacted, yet his commitment and intrigue ultimately wins each scene. His moments with his psycho-therapist are intuitive and curious, with an underpinning of unknown menace, as it all leads to an emotionally difficult message about handling and living with trauma. On top of all this, Split’s ending surprise, a trademark of Shyamalan’s, may be his best and most satisfying since The Sixth Sense.
Still, even with all the good in Shyamalan’s, he still has his hang-ups, many of which are on display here. For all the powerful horror visuals, ominously toned pacing, and humor that wonderfully walks the line between funny and disturbing, his direction makes the performances feel fairly unnatural, and his dialogue is sometimes oddly stilted and explicitly expositional. Despite the messiness and weak script moments, Split is an enveloping psychological thriller whose yarn is dutifully weaved with darkness and intrigue.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
By Cole Schneider
A reviewer never wants to spoil the final scene, but with oft-anticipated/oft-maligned director M. Night Shyamalan it’s usually best to dance around everything. So I’ll only instead hint toward what may be his most audacious ending, though certainly not the most semiologically inspiring. Most famous for his twist endings, Shyamalan is also hardly averse to meta elements in his films.
“Unbreakable” is a meta-commentary on the burgeoning superhero movie genre. His more divisive, “The Village”, plays out as reflexive meta-commentary on his own shtick: namely, that its twist is the absence of a twist. The unbearable, “Lady in the Water”, which was marketed in part as Shyamalan’s bedtime story, has a character telling a literal bedtime story as the film’s primary plot exposition. Not to mention that Shyamalan—in what is maybe the most blatantly egotistical move a writer/director has ever made—cast himself as a writer of such creative talent that he will inspire a future president to change the world into a better place. “The Visit” is a playful meta-commentary on his early career. Its main character is a girl nearing adulthood who wants to be a filmmaker; she even makes comments suggesting that Shyamalan is mocking some of his own tendencies from early in his career (emotional manipulation, old-fashioned music).
Where “Split” film as a whole fits is debatable. Some might argue it’s as good as “Unbreakable”; some might say it’s as lame as “Lady in the Water”. I think it’s more mixed like “The Visit”. Perhaps it will go down as divisive as “The Village”. But “Split” is certainly his most emboldened ending, a meta-statement that will surprise 100% of those who haven’t been warned.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars