Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller.
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, Sebastian Arcelus, Neal Huff, Kim Director, Lyne Renee, M Night Shyamalan, Bruce Willis.
Year Of Release: 2017
Certificate: 15 (UK)
Runtime: 117 Minutes
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer(s): M. Night Shyamalan
Synopsis: “Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, they must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.” IMDB
It fair to say, that when it comes to Director/Writer/Producer and part-time cameo-man M. Night Shyamalan, audiences seem to have a love/hate and wishful thinking relationship with him. That is to say that every time it is announced that he has a new film I the works, cinephiles everywhere drop to their knees and pray that it isn’t going to be a disaster of a film. Ever since the release of 1999’s The Sixth Sense, there has been, arguably, a bar sat at a fairly elevated level when it comes to shocking the audience and delivering the unexpected. To that end, many would say that he has become the ‘Twist King’ of modern cinema. That entirely depends on how good you are at seeing what’s coming, and what you consider to be a good twist. For me, I find myself getting quite bored of hearing about ‘amazing twists’ at the end of movies (of even books), as I find myself mostly disappointed when they have been constantly over-hyped. Example: The Sixth Sense, for me, was of no surprise at all. It’s one that I saw coming as there were so many obvious clues throughout the movie, which was certainly a good movie, if not a bit dull.
That being said, The Sixth Sense is most definitely classed as one of his finest movies, and that is something I cannot disagree with considering the films that have followed it in the (many) years since its release. From trashing a much-loved animated series, indulging in over-paid actor’s trite nepotism, battling wind (no, not flatulence) to bulk-standard indulgent rubbish like Lady in the Water (2006) or anti-climactic wastes of time such as The Village (2004) and Signs (2002). It’s not all bad though, in my opinion. Unbreakable (2000) and Devil (2010) were not too bad at all. However, I have to say that, with the exception of the annoying little rapping boy, The Visit (2015) has been my favourite to date. Not perfect by a long shot, but a fascinating and mostly well executed movie.
So, at the risk of rambling any further, has Split taken its place as the cream of the Shyamalan crop?
No. No it has not.
Generally speaking, Split has garnered positive reviews from both critics and fans, with many calling it a ‘return to form’ for the marmite filmmaker. Considering his ‘form’ has always been reasonably unbalanced and anti-climactic, with some highs and (mostly) lows, I wouldn’t say that he has returned to form with Split, but very much stayed on-point, and that’s exactly how I would describe Split; reasonably unbalanced, anti-climactic, with some highs and (mostly) lows. From a directorial standpoint, I can’t claim to say that Shyamalan is a bad one, neither is he a great one, but he certainly has a style that make his films stand out from the Hollywood crowd and that is a crucial factor, for me, when watching a movie. I like Directors that have a certain style, and Shyamalan surely has that in spades. Split has all the Shyamalanisms that you would expect to see: his uses of standout colours, timely used reflected images, subtlety in specific prop usage. Basically, it’s all there. The cogs of Shyamalan’s visionary mind working well together to produce the gritty realism that he’s actually good at when he appears to make the effort.
Let me start with the casting, because this, by far, is one of its strongest positives, and it’s rather a small casting. There’s not much that you can say about James McAvoy that hasn’t been said before. Simply put, he is one of the best adaptive actors out there today and his skills of character diversity unquestionably shine in his role in Split as both/all Kevin Wendell Crumb and ‘The Horde’. McAvoy takes a (dissociative identity disorder) character with 23, apparently distinct, personalities and gives them (or at least a small portion of the aforementioned number) all individuality and life with great skill. Not only does he convey the different personalities well through vocality and emotion, but he also achieves distinction through the wonderful way in which he physically carries himself in relation to each persona. He effortlessly commands his screen time, with the ability to be intimidating, frightening, charming and sometimes comical throughout. Though his physical presence never alters, aside from wardrobe changes, his performance makes it easy to believe that there are different characters standing in front of you. He is perfect.
As the movie’s main antagonist Casey Cook, Anya Taylor-Joy (Morgan, 2016) is another strike for the casting department. Her talent in Split is her splendid ability to portray a character that appears both younger and older in wisdom and actions at the same time. She exudes innocent vulnerability and a remarkable strength that make her so convincing and delightful to watch. Casey moves through the film weighing everything up and adapting to each situation presented to her, and it is entirely in Joy’s amazing performance that the believability factor is truly sold. Returning to the Shyamalan world is Betty Buckley, who previously appeared in 2008’s The Happening (urgh!) as Mrs Jones. In Split, Buckley plays Dr. Karen Fletcher, Kevin’s psychiatrist. There’s not much to say about this, Buckley gives a typically fine performance in this standard role. Adding charm and sensitivity to a character that we have seen so many times before. That pretty much leaves us with Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula who play Casey’s classmates Claire and Marcia (respectively). There’s even less to say about these two. Although they’re performances too are good, they seem to add nothing much to the film aside from padding out the victim count and adding the (mildly) relative creepiness by having one strip to her bra and the other strip to her underwear. They really don’t serve much more purpose than that, that I could ascertain.
Having watched the trailers (something I generally tend not to do these days), I had a vague idea of what to expect in regard to the storyline, and the be honest, that is all I got. For me, it was just like watching a very extended version of the trailer. Constantly waiting for something unique and exhilarating to happen, I found myself continuously disappointed. I kind of had a gist where the movie was going, and, to that end, it didn’t excel beyond that. There was a whole lot of predictability and lack of inspiration to Split that had me questioning why people have been making such a fuss of this movie. The scripting and dialogue was just fine, but the movie itself moved at a – Shyamalan standard – dull pace. I don’t feel like there are any scenes that could have been removed, but I also feel that there were none of any remarkability outside of the performances of the pleasing cast. If it wasn’t for them, Split, more than likely wouldn’t have held my attention for so long. So, let’s now move to the other thing that held me in its lacklustre grasp for the movie’s runtime – the movie’s inevitable twist. Hmmm! Yes, the twist. That thing that Shyamalanafans love to look forward to. Already jaded by the blandness and predictability of the plot, my mind constantly veered towards the twist. ‘The saving grace is in the twist’, I kept telling myself. Oh Dear! Now, I’m not going to spoilt it for anyone that has not yet seen it and are late to the party, like me, but let me just say that in the same manner that I had just viewed the entire movie, I was entirely underwhelmed. It just came across like a tacky gimmick that added nothing great whatsoever to an uninspiring movie, and I switched off the movie straight after not giving the slightest damn about it in any way, shape or form. It was a cheap tie-in and wrap-up that felt like a last-minute justification attempt for the disappointment that I had just sat through for far too long, and it just didn’t work as a valid reason for watching this movie.
Overall, Split is a mediocre movie that is only made worthwhile through the performances of McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. As I’ve said, it looks and feels great thanks to Shyamalan’s direction and the dialogue is written well. That being said, its poor ‘twist’ (for want of a better word) and sub- par predictable plot make it quite forgettable and hardly one that will stand out in cinema history. It’ll probably stand tall as one of Shyamalan’s best, but that’s not really saying much for a man that is the filmmaking equivalent of a rollercoaster.