Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Studio: Blinding Edge Pictures & Blumhouse Productions
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley
There is a scene in the middle of Split, in which Betty Buckley’s character turns to M. Night Shyamalan (who always makes a cameo appearance in his films) and tells him that he’s getting “kinda soggy ‘round the middle”. To me this scene sums up this film.
Split confused me. I feel like it didn’t know what it wanted to be, the tone was wildly inconsistent, and it didn’t feel like this was an intentional choice made to embellish the split personalities of James McAvoy’s characters. Pretty early on the film diverges into three principle storylines, the first and key one being that of the three kidnapped girls. In addition to this we have an arc between James McAvoy’s characters and Dr. Karen Fletcher, played wonderfully here by Betty Buckley who manages to make some of the films worst dialogue, which is heavy on exposition and escalatingly ridiculous science sound convincing. Then we come to the third storyline, which was told through a series of flashbacks to one of the kidnapped girls past. This last thread dealt with some very heavy subject matter, which Shyamalan just doesn’t have the writing chops to deal with, particularly in the context it’s dealt with in this particular film.
The performances turned in by the three central cast members, particularly James McAvoy who puts in a very playful performance really hold this film together. They really shone against the minor cast members who turned in performances ranging from forgettable to terrible. The cinematography had a definite style to it, vaguely resembling the photography of ‘It Follows’, which shared the same cinematographer: Mike Gioulakis. However whereas the shooting style in that film felt purposeful to put you in the headspace of the film, here it felt purely aesthetic, which just didn’t quite work for me in this case.
After seeing the trailer I really wanted to like this film, hoping it would be a fun, self-aware, slightly trashy sci-fi romp. But despite what others may have said about the film, it just didn’t do it for me. This isn’t Shyamalan’s return to form for as others have stated. In fact I would argue that it was one of his worst offerings, being a synthesis between his early thrillers (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakble and Signs) and his later works, particularly The Happening. Because it was stuck in this middle ground it was unable to be genuinely good or enjoyably bad, instead it just was. This, in my opinion is probably the worst crime a film can commit.
In conclusion the film read like one of the more ridiculous X-Files episode stretched out over two hours and not quite willing to commit 100% to the self-awareness that allowed Mulder and Scully to consistently get away with it (for at least five seasons). Would I recommend it? Well if you’re a James McAvoy fan then yes, because his performance is a true joy, otherwise your money might be better spent on seeing La La Land again.