Review - 'Split'
M. Night Shyamalan's latest is an oddity to say the least. While the director is definitely back in good form and not making questionable directorial decisions anymore, I found myself not quite taken by Split, at least not until the ending. The film is fairly engaging and boasts stellar performances from its two leads, but for me it didn't quite come to life until late into the third act.
Split tells the story of three girls who are kidnapped by a stranger and taken to his underground facility. As they look for ways to escape they soon figure out that their captor has many different personalities, some of which have malevolent tendencies.
Split is yet another film that mostly takes place in a small, confined space where the protagonists must find a way out whilst being under constant duress. Sure, just about every film of late that has this premise has been good-to-great; Green Room, Room, Don't Breathe and 10 Cloverfield Lane to name a few, but enough is enough. Split is pretty much the last straw, and that's not to say that it is in any way bad, I'm just growing weary of this structure. The two things separating Split from its peers is a killer performance from James McAvoy and a wicked-cool ending that changes the way you view the film.
There are plenty of people that will go into this movie, moderately enjoy what they're watching, get to the ending, and then reinterpret the film as one of the most incredible things they've ever seen. That's totally fine. For me, a great ending does not make the entire movie before it any more entertaining. While I did find the film to be for the most part engaging, it was still a fairly generic thriller, and I found myself getting bored from time to time. McAvoy really is the main factor that kept me from nodding off in my seat.
James McAvoy delivers a power-house performance here as Kevin, a troubled man with 23 different personalities. The way McAvoy is able to shift from character to character in the blink of an eye is truly impressive. That's not to say that his performance is perfect, though. Some of the personalities that we're introduced to aren't quite as convincing as they should have been, particularly Hedwig; the personality of a young boy that is taken just a few steps too far.
Anya Taylor-Joy is also good as Casey; a troubled young girl with a history. Her performance helps distract the viewer from some of the movie's less intelligent characters and plot contrivances. The other two girls (Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) that are along for the ride with Casey are not nearly as compelling and make mind-numbingly stupid decisions throughout the film. Betty Buckley plays Dr. Karen Fletcher, a psychiatrist to Kevin. She gives an earnest performance here, but also falls victim to making poor decisions that go against her character.
Now let's talk about that ending. While yes, this movie comes up with a very clever idea, and conceptually it's very cool, I still don't think it was perfectly executed. I'm not going to spoil anything, but it's one of those moments where the idea is more powerful than the actors conveying it, so you kind of ignore the performances and the set-up because you're intrigued by this new element. Anyway, it's still a very cool trick and it's amazing that it wasn't spoiled in the lead-up to this film's release.
From a cinematic stand-point, Split is shot very well, which is no surprise as that has always been one of Shyamalan's fortes. There's no single shot in this film that doesn't tell you the information you need to know. I also liked the subtle but effective score by Wes Dylan Thordson. Keep your ears open for an interesting musical queue at one point in this film.
Overall, Split is a fairly effective and contained thriller with a knock-out performance from James McAvoy. That said, I think when we look back on this film in the future, audiences aren't going to remember much else other than being surprised by how it ended.