It has been 18 years since writer / director M. Night Shyamalan brought us The Sixth Sense and 17 years since Unbreakable. It is fair to say his outings since then have been, well, less then optimal would probably be a polite way to put it. Given that I’m not really James McAvoy’s biggest fan either, Split was going to make for interesting watching.
Let’s just clear the air to start with; I’m anything but Shyamalan’s biggest fan. I don’t like what I read about him (if any of you have read Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures you’ll know what I’m talking about) and I don’t like what I hear about him from those who’ve worked with him. I did like The Sixth Sense and I didn’t mind Unbreakable but since then, I mean, The Happening? What was that all about, oh yeah, trees. The Last Airbender? Need I say more? I do? Sure ok: After Earth. I had everything crossed Split would be some return to form.
Split stars James McAvoy (Wanted, X-Men: First Class) as one of 23 protagonists (we can call him Kevin as that’s his original name), though we’re really only introduced to four: Hedwig – a nine-year-old boy, Patricia – a stern woman, Dennis – likes everything clean, OCD, likes watching young girls dance naked and Barry – a fashion designer and arguably the most ‘normal’ of everyone.
Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen, The Last Survivors) plays Claire, Jessica Sula (Honeytrap, Skins) plays Marcia and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Morgan) plays Casey. They are three girls who are kidnapped by Kevin, when he’s Dennis, and placed in a windowless room and told they are ‘food’. Betty Buckley (Carrie, Frantic) plays Dr. Karen Fletcher, the woman who’s been working with Kevin and his various personalities, mostly Barry the fashion designer, for years.
It becomes clear pretty early on to Dr. Fletcher that all isn’t right in Kevin’s world. She pokes and prods and unearths talk of ‘The Beast’ which we’re led to believe has come before as a potential 24th personality. She dismisses the talk as a coping strategy for the trauma Kevin suffered when he was younger. Is she right, or is there really a 24th personality; bigger, stronger, on its way?
Run-time watchers will be glad to hear that, despite having a nearly two-hour run-time, Split seemingly fly’s by. Much of this, and most of how good Split is, can be attributed to the actors that are on screen. McAvoy is a delight as the various personalities, he really seems to have had a lot of fun with them. Personally, it’s the first time I’ve actually seen him do something that isn’t just him, though we are still treated to the occasional eye-brow, furrowed brow acting he does.
Anya Taylor-Joy is fantastic as the troubled girl Casey (as is Izzie Coffey (Bad Girl) as a younger Casey) who’s story unfolds in flash-back. At first this is an unwelcome interruption but it does make sense at the end, it also breaks the story up which aids the seemingly speedy run-time.
There are some great shots from Shyamalan (which it almost pains me to write) but I really did enjoy the direction. The way he and McAvoy swing between personalities is really nice. But, there was always going to be a but, right? But, the ending, the ‘last half-hour’ is pure bunkum. Notwithstanding the fact that Split is a horror(ish) and so some artistic licence is allowed, it’s still pretty bad.
Given all she goes through, given all she’s been through up to now, you’re telling me she wouldn’t have waited till he was closer before pulling the trigger? She’d been hunting, she would know that a shotgun is only really effective at close-quarters. Then there’s the ‘I’m a girl so suddenly can’t open doors and stand around gawping instead of getting the f**k out of there’ moments too. It’s too Hollywood, it feels rushed and nowhere near as thought out as the rest of the film.
As Split begins to come to an end you get the very real sense it is being setup for a sequel and the final scene doesn’t do anything to dampen that feeling. What it does do is provide a cameo for someone and ties this movie in with one of Shyamalan’s previous movies. This isn’t a bad touch necessarily, it sort of makes sense, I can see the logic.
Split is a good film with very good performances let down by a final half-hour. It’s as if Shyamalan doesn’t know what to do with his movies once the cat has been let out of the bag. I’ve no doubt we’re going to see this taken up again in some form (box-office notwithstanding) and I really do hope we’re seeing a return to form for Shyamalan because, if nothing else, at least he does something original. In the days of remakes, sequels, prequels and the same movies being made with younger actors, that’s refreshing.