“SPLIT” is the latest film from the sometimes loved and sometimes hated M. Night Shylaman. Your enjoyment, or hatred of the film, will depend on how you feel about his tricks and sleight of hand misdirection on several points in the story. Some of the tricks are just that, but the material and the story makes good use of simple sets and locations. On the surface, a story about a man with many personalities terrorizing young women sounds like a 1970’s slasher film plot, and could very well have been exploitation in the hands of another story teller.However, this particular feature is more about the performances, and less about the logic and authenticity of mental disorders. It does post some interesting points, but also makes a left turn that will “split” the reception of the film even more. If nothing else, I’ve seen some reviews praising and some hating the film. It seems that many critics are still jaded by some of the director’s later efforts, and love to hate his new films. I personally did not see his last film “The Visit”, but gave this one a chance, and have some mixed results. It is worth noting that the director, studio and the people involved in all levels, are making an earnest attempt to win back people who think his work has gone astray. (Potential Spoilers below)
James McAvoy (Atonement; X-Men; Filth) portrays a man with 23 known personalities. His warm and grandmotherly psychologist (Betty Buckley) is concerned, though she only confronts him one personality at a time . When he is away, his darker personalities take the stage.
Opening with a daylight kidnapping of three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy; Haley Lu Richardson; Jessica Sula) the mysterious man is keeping them imprisoned in a specially-built prison. From there, the film makes it a point to showcase the acting prowess of James McAvoy. His commitment to the role seems effortless, but if you have seen him in any other film, you know he can handle the roles. As an actor, it is almost a feature length demo reel of characters that this actor could embody, and any one with a sense of casting would look at this film to see that he could play a variety of parts. However in this film, he manages to pull off several voices and mannerisms. It is B movie material, but elevated to A level with McAvoy carrying much of the film on his shoulders.
Vaulting between therapy sessions and the mental torture the girls endure as they encounter the different sides to their damaged host, Shyamalan tightens the tension to an Silence of the Lambs degree. The film will affect enough people, and word of mouth is the best marketing for a film. I have recommended it so I can discuss it with some of my fellow actors.
Split gives you the director’s more successful style of storytelling. After The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs came clunkers such as The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening and the sci-fi fiascos The Last Airbender and After Earth. I think part of the reality that people should understand, is that you cannot hit a home run every time. And, as his style has been copied, as he has copied from Hitchcock, Depalma, and Spielberg before, Shylaman is going back to his roots. I remember that he is a young filmmaker at heart, and rode the success of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs for a long time. But you can only coast on that for a while.
It is admirable that he tried something different, but if he can embrace his roots, the audiences that do enjoy his work will return that embrace, and he will be as relevant as he ever was. I see him doing simpler pictures like this for a while. While the simplicity can be taken on by any low budget effort, he still has the clout to get films made, and attract actors that want to add a Shylaman film to their resume.
Of note, the only major problem I had with the film was the ending. It was a bit clunky and felt like a shoehorned moment. Even the performances within it were weak. I felt it was tacked on, and trying to expand on a larger universe. Almost in the sense of a Marvel movie or a Fox X-men film. Hopefully that won’t ruin the enjoyment that many people might have during the film, but I felt it was very hamfisted and just bad. Otherwise, I think the film is worth seeing.