For the first time in over a decade, I enjoyed an M. Night Shyamalan movie. This by no way means that Split comes close to the quality of Shyamalan’s early work, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. With a tense winding narrative mixed with, at times, a goofy tone, Split can’t really find its footing as it fails to balance the genres it’s mixing. James McAvoy steals the show as the central character(s), which more than makes up for the movies’ lack of pace at times.
Split is advertised as about a man with 23 personalities with the narrative following a few of them as they kidnap three teenage girls. From here we are treated to acting showcase from McAvoy as the girls are desperately in search of an escape. There is a 24th personality that we are warned about throughout the movie as one that we don’t want to see released.
Despite the advertising for 23 personalities, we are only shown a handful of them from McAvoy which range from a small boy called Hedwig to an overpowering brute called Dennis. Each personality is incredibly portrayed by McAvoy and it’s only towards the end when we really get to see him shine when he’s flipping between them on the fly.
Here in lies the issues I have with Split. The different personalities are so varied that the tone of the movie feels off at times. Hedwig adds comedy to the film when I would have preferred a much darker tone for my kidnapping escape movie. Sure, the different tones left me on edge and I’m sure that’s what Shyamalan intended, yet it just comes off as goofy at times; which is not what you want when the movie transitions more into the horror genre towards its conclusion. This is not helped at all by the ending going so off the rails of reality that I found myself laughing more than being scared.
Throughout the film, there are also sequences that give us a backstory to the central girl, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), yet the sequences feel so badly placed that it seems like it was an afterthought to film it and Shyamalan crammed it in wherever it would go. They also don’t particularly add anything to the plot other than a quick easy deus ex machina for Casey.
Split is a really fun and definitely shows that Shyamalan can still make a good movie. Despite the tonal shifts not working for me, I can definitely see this movies’ merits and charm. James McAvoy nails his performance and is the only reason the movie is really worth watching. I’m now curious to see what Shyamalan does next, compared to not even knowing he’d made a movie, which is a huge improvement in my eyes.