M Night Shyamalan can conjure up the best of ideas. From there he can spin a great twist. It’s a shame that’s about all he can do.
In anticipation of the upcoming film “Glass,” I met up with some friends and we watched “Split,” featuring accomplished actor James McAvoy.
Shyamalan tells the story of 3 teenage girls who are abducted and imprisoned by a man named Kevin who is afflicted with a severe case of multiple personality disorder, 23 personalities to be exact. Watch out because there might be a 24th.
McAvoy portrays Kevin and the collection of characters within Kevin’s mental state. As expected McAvoy plays each role very well. What’s disappointing however is that Shayamalan hardly gives a chance to know Kevin. So in the end you are left a collection of fantastic impersonations as performed James McAvoy. Call it a Rich Little Variety Hour knockoff.
Surprisingly good casting does not stop though with its marquee star. Betty Buckley does a nice job as psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher, who is confident she has a handle on Kevin’s affliction and can effectively speak with each of the personalities, including “Dennis,” the OCD individual who committed the abduction. As good as Buckley is in her scenes with McAvoy, Shyamalan misses some good opportunities to use the Fletcher character so that we could draw from Kevin’s backstory. We never get that chance. Instead, we a lot of Dr. Fletcher simply requesting to speak with a different personality. Why doesn’t she ever ask to speak to Kevin? If she spoke more to Kevin, wouldn’t she perhaps try to assist him in adjusting to living with his disorder in a healthy manner? Kevin should be her main focus, yet he never is considered by her.
The imprisonment storyline doesn’t soar much higher than a Jason slasher flick. The girls end up half dressed. They cry. They attempt to escape down long, dark hallways and hide. There’s not much here other that to use a wire hanger to Jimmy a lock.
The one girl, Casey, that is given primary focus is actually given a back story. She is well played by Anya Taylor-Joy as a quiet eccentric. Shyamalan is gracious to let us explore a time when she was younger, when she learned how to fend for herself and includes moments that imply reason for her strange response to her current, frightening predicament. This is all fine with me. I won’t reveal what her past entails. It’s a bleak, disturbing back story but I’ll accept it, I guess. Still, while the script veers into this direction on occasion, I was always asking myself, if we are seeing Casey’s back story, why can’t we see Kevin’s as well? I really felt denied.
Shyamalan is renowned for his twist ending. You might not care for most of his films but you are normally left thinking about the ending that arrives unexpectedly in many of his films (“The Sixth Sense,” “Signs,” and even “The Village”). Here, however, it ends like a kidnapping story might typically end. Then it does a wild u turn of a narrative and throws a very quick moment that connects with one of his most popular films from many years before (SPOILER ALERT)…..
….”Unbreakable” (and hence the upcoming film, “Glass”).
I didn’t care for this out of left field connection. It feels like a cheap money grab where Shyamalan’s well of imagination ran dry and he tacked on this moment.
Thematically, these two films are totally different, never feeling like they could exist in the same universe. Shyamalan couldn’t conjure a twist. So he did what he thought was his next best thing with this stunt. It’s pretty desperate to me.
“Split” really isn’t worth seeing. It’s bleak. There’s no humor. There’s no suspense as it feels like it’s been done before and there’s really no character study to engage in beyond the Casey character, but her story is just too ugly to care or be entertained/thrilled by. Realistic? Yes. Intriguing? Not so much.
Shyamalan has a good cast. It’s a shame they weren’t given more thoughtful material.