Over the years I have become increasingly skeptical of the work of M. Night Shyamalan. I am a huge fan of his superhero film Unbreakable, but over time his style has become very predictable and bland. Films like The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth all showcase his poor directing. Yet, I remained as optimistic as possible for his newest film, Split.
Split is about a group of girls (played by Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, and Haley Lu Richardson) who are kidnapped by a man named Kevin (James McAvoy) suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder. People with DID can have many different personalities inside of them, each completely separate from one another. It is now up to the girls to use Kevin’s Identity Disorder against him and escape before it is too late.
So to put it simply, I was very disappointed with Split. I went into the theater thinking it would be something a little better than it was. I think the idea of someone with multiple personalities kidnapping some people is a neat concept. With a proper story and characters, a lot could be done with this. However the filmmakers just weren’t able to put together a great product.
I think it was apparent to me by about fifteen minutes in that Split wasn’t going to be good. It started showing many warning signs of a bad Shyamalan movie; including features like boring camera angles, dull acting, and some very awkward dialogue.
The camera work, like in a lot of Shyamalan films, is very dull and boring. Shyamalan will have a still camera point front and center at the actors while they deliver there lines, with very little deviation from this. Every so often he shoots these extreme close ups that feel like their straight out of Wayne’s World. They make little sense and feel out of place.
Another issue with this film is that it’s extremely funny. Some people may argue that Shyamalan intentionally wrote the script to include funny dialogue and humorous scenes involving Kevin’s different personalities. How could somebody accidentally write something so humorous, you may ask? Well, this is the man who wrote The Happening, so he can do about anything.
The biggest problem with Split being humorous is that it directly conflicts with the other tone the filmmakers are trying to set. They wanted this to be genuinely creepy and eerie for the viewer, yet they write hilarious dialogue (whether intentional or not) that kills the mood. Never was I scared while watching this film, because every few minutes somebody would say something stupid or funny that would throw the mood off. James McAvoy can go from delivering a truly spine-tingling line to saying something exceedingly goofy and out of place.
I would say the saving grace of Split would be the performance of James McAvoy. For having to portray over a dozen different personalities in a single film, he does quite nicely. His character was always interesting while on screen, and he felt pretty unpredictable at all times. His performance was both memorable and noteworthy.
The visuals are okay in Split too. I think some of the sets were pretty well designed and interesting. The location for the film fit nicely with the tone the filmmakers wanted to establish.
The film unfortunately ends pretty anticlimactically. Any intensity the film established ended about fifteen minutes before the climax actually ended. They just kept going and going, not really knowing where to stop. By this point people in the audience were antsy for the film to end. I can’t say I blame them.
Now I won’t ruin it, but there is this little twist at the end that “ties a few things up” so to speak. I thought this was dumb, unnecessary, and added nothing to the plot (or anything). Once you see it, you’ll know exactly what I am taking about, and it’s a real doozy.
I am completely baffled that Split managed to become “Certified Fresh” by the film critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps film critics were trying too hard to build Shyamalan up as a great filmmaker again. I’m sad that I didn’t like this movie as much as others, and I wish I could say better things about it. However I feel the camera work is dull and bland, the tone an utter mess, and the film overall not scary or thrilling, just bland.
Overall, I’d have to recommend that other people go ahead and give Split a watch. Maybe there is something here that I just missed or didn’t understand, so go and make your own decision on whether Split is good. As for me, I think my mind is made up.
The Verdict: C-