M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film ‘Split’, is a thriller film that lacks the thrill one would expect with such a film. ‘Split’ relies so heavily on the talent of James McAvoy that it forgets about the rest of the creative process, forcing us to drudge through boring exposition. Despite a rather shocking and interesting twist ending, there still is not enough substance to save the let down that is ‘Split’.
When three girls are kidnapped by a man diagnosed with 23 different personalities, they must escape before his terrifying 24th personality surfaces. The plot revolves mainly around the three girls attempting to escape from McAvoy’s character and the different ways they attempt to escape. From trying to use strength in numbers and out force him, sneaking out, and even taking advantage of the different personalities. The one thing the plot seems to forget is that it should be building to a monumental moment. Shyamalan is known for this, but on this project he ignores the aspect that has made him famous. ‘Split’ has all of the chops for being a successful thriller project, but manages to fall short.
Despite Shyamalan’s recent installments, he still has given us some incredible thriller and drama films. If there’s anything that he has a grasp on as a director it’s how to build tension, especially tension to a climatic moment. Shyamalan is known for his big twist endings and these hold so much power for us as an audience due to the tension that is built throughout the film. But for some reason in ‘Split’, he seems to have forgotten this. Versus building the tension to a climatic moment, we just have moments that are trying way to hard to be frightening. There is no build up, it all is just moments of tension that occur as they unfold on screen. There’s no attempt to even make us feel worried for the characters. The characters just are going through the motions of this situation and no real emotional weight is attached to this. There are flashbacks from Casey (Anna-Taylor Joy’s character), where she is practically taught to be emotionless. She’s being taught how to hunt with her father and creepy uncle (we’ll get to that later), and she has no emotions in any of these flashback scenes. Casey and the other two girls who get kidnapped are practically acting frightened just for the sake of acting frightened. There’s absolutely no back drop to the events unfolding and that makes everything feel much less minimalist. The bigger picture suddenly becomes much smaller due to Shyamalan’s inability to build tension.
However, James McAvoy is rather exciting to watch in this film. One of, if not the best performance of his career, when he switches between all of the different personalities it is a brilliant showcase of his range. Not only does he switch from an OCD, well-groomed man, but he goes to a motherly middle-aged woman and even a 9-year-old boy. There are even a couple of scenes where McAvoy switches personality during a one take, and not just the three personalities mentioned but about half of the personalities we have yet to see. A downside to this aspect of the film is we never do see the entirety of the 23 personalities. We only get a small glimpse into the mental state of the character and that is a tad disappointing. One of the biggest attractions for the project was that we were going to see somebody take on 23 different personalities, but in reality we actually only see him take on about 5. And not to discredit McAvoy either, he absolutely dominates every scene he is in and the entire focus of the film is aimed towards his performance. But for some reason, the script only really lets McAvoy explore just a slice of an intriguing character. McAvoy’s character is a powerful one, enthralling in certain areas. So it is a bit disappointing that we only get a small glimpse into what could have been some brilliant acting/directing.
And now onto the twist. Every Shyamalan movie has the big grand finale that makes everyone’s jaw drop, and ‘Split’ is no different. The colossal amount of weight that is held by this twist is almost unbearable, and not in a good way. Not only is it so obsessed with itself that it confuses you for a moment, but you verbally proclaim “Are you serious?” The twist reveals that ‘Split’ fits into a much larger picture and that is all I will say in terms of avoiding spoilers. Despite the twist being a little to ambiguous and self-absorbed, it still is mildly interesting to think about the possibilities it brings to the table. It is difficult to say whether or not that the twist could prove to be useful and of an interest to a larger audience but only time will tell. And who knows Shyamalan is a bold director who has shocked us before, he’s more than willing to do it again.
‘Split’ is a thriller project that takes on the form of a drama more so than a thriller. James McAvoy does prove that he has quite the acting talent beyond playing Professor X, and manages to deliver a rather intriguing performance. But, due to the inhibition of Shyamalan we do not receive this film at its full potential. Despite it having every piece to fit a brilliant thrilling puzzle, it instead remains obsessed with its monumental twist ending. Which is disappointing, considering the world of cinema was ready for Shyamalan’s comeback.