I’ve never had a more disinclination before watching a movie than I did with “Split.”
As any avid film-goer knows, the scariest thing about any movie is when the words “Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan” appear in the opening credits. For those who don’t know, Shyamalan has given us some great films: “The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable” and to a certain extent “Signs.” However, his most recent entries to his filmography have tanked with audiences and critics alike. I was hoping with everything in me that “Split” would be the film to get him out of his slump, it had every bit of potential to do so. “Split” reiterates Shyamalan’s earlier stories – it is very character driven and campy. It delves into the world of Dissociative Identity Disorder. James McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb while also portraying an impressive eight different personalities throughout the film and is arguably the one redeeming quality the film has to offer. One of Kevin’s other identities, Dennis, kidnaps three young women and holds them hostage in an unknown location. These girls attempt to escape and figure out exactly what’s going on with their strange captor.
The overall premise of the film is very strong. I don’t think it would’ve worked as well had it not been for McAvoy’s stellar performance. Each personality McAvoy portrays draws you in from the start. He successfully makes each character feel weighted and important, and at times he even makes the audience care for certain personalities. The rest of the acting on the other hand is absolutely dead-pan and wooden. This is in part Shyamalan’s and the casting director’s fault. A lot of the dialogue is very unnatural and tries way too hard to be, for lack of a better word, good. There’s a certain scene where Kevin’s doctor, Dr. Fletcher, sees Kevin off from an appointment and proceeds to have a conversation with another older lady in the building. Dr. Fletcher delivers a laughable line along the lines of, “I am going to give a presentation here from my computer, via Skype” that is delivered so terribly awkward that I actually cringed. Shortly after there is a five-minute scene that provides no context to the film at all. Dr. Fletcher has a conversation with the same woman who is watching what can be assumed is Wheel of Fortune. The older lady goes on a tangent about how the people on the show are spinning the wheel wrong. It’s just one of those scenes that makes you scratch your head and ask why the director put it in the film in the first place. When done right, this sort of scene wouldn’t be a problem. Tarantino does this sort of thing all the time, but he’s a masterful dialogue writer so it works. Shyamalan likes to make cameos in his films, and the one he has in “Split” was so laughably bad that it comes across as stupid. He cameos as a security camera operator who loves Hooters.
That is not a joke.
That is literally his only purpose in the film.
Without giving any spoilers, Shyamalan is known for his ‘twist endings’. The one in “Split” had me out of my seat with my jaw on the floor. I wasn’t impressed, I was angry. I don’t want to give anything away, but the last five seconds of the film ties it to another one of Shyamalan’s movies he wrote back in 2000.
17 years ago.
It made sense, but it didn’t make enough sense to work. Plus, unless you had seen the previous film or were already a fan of it, the references and cameos would be completely lost on you.
“Split” had all the potential to be a great film. I’ll admit that out of the last five of Shyamalan’s films, I enjoyed this one the most. But again, it had way too many flaws that could’ve easily been fixed. A writer and director who has been in the industry this long should know by now what to do and what not to do. Maybe he’ll figure it out for his next venture.
One can only hope.