“Split” is the latest film from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan and follows a man with a multiple personality disorder (James McAvoy) who kidnaps three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula).
A lot of people have given up on M. Night Shyamalan as a filmmaker, writing him off as a two-hit wonder from 2000. However after his 2015 film “The Visit,” some people maintained hope that Shyamalan maybe had some magic left in him. And while “Split” isn’t a masterpiece, it offers a fantastic central performance from James McAvoy and some decent thrills and chills, although it can’t stick the landing in the climax.
Through most of the time I was watching this I kept getting a “10 Cloverfield Lane” vibe, and not just because both films focus on hostages trapped in a basement by a captive who treats them decently enough but has unclear motives. There is a sense of claustrophobia and tension around the whole film, not knowing character’s backstories and what is driving them creates a mystery within itself.
James McAvoy is the best part of the film and frankly why it works at all. He technically turns in six or seven different performances, with his Kevin having the personality of an eight-year-old child one second and a middle-age fashion designer the next. McAvoy does wardrobe changes to coincide with his personalities but what is brilliant about his performance are the subtle differences of his personalities. One may twitch, another has a gentler stare, and it really is great work that much like John Goodman in “Cloverfield Lane” would probably get award talk if it came out in the fall instead of the first quarter of the year.
Anya Taylor-Joy, praised for her work in “The Witch” and the only good thing about “Morgan,” does a fine job as the “leader” of the captive girls and harbors some secrets of her own. Like McAvoy she has to convey a range of emotions and wear emotional masks, and she continues to show why her stock is on the rise.
Characters and performances aside, however, the film has problems. It is a slow-burn narrative however that doesn’t excuse its 117 minute runtime for feeling like it is well over two hours long. By the time the film was approaching its climax I thought to myself, “ok, this ending has to be pretty amazing to be worth all this build up.” And it wasn’t.
Despite being Shyamalan there isn’t a real twist ending and anything that could have been considered surprising is either foreshadowed or flat-out explained halfway through the film. There are also flashback sequences that end up having near nothing to do with the actual plot itself, and a surprise at the very end of the film will be a joy for those who pick up on the reference but disaffecting for those who don’t.
“Split” has a decent setup and features a fantastic performance from James McAvoy and for some that may be enough. However those who want a truly thrilling hostage film with a classic Shyamalan twist and reveal may be left disappointed.
Critics Rating: 6/10