M. Night Shyamalan is known for his extremely irregular filmography: from interesting movies like The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable to absolutely barbaric atrocities such as After Earth and The Last Airbender. Many people have argued that Split, his most recent film, is his return to making great thrillers, but when stepping into the cinema theatre I was, at the very least, reluctant. Was it actually a surprisingly nice experience? Let’s find out.
Split is both directed and written by Shyamalan (he even has a rather disappointing cameo) and tells the story of Kevin, a young man who has evidenced 23 different personalities and decides to kidnap three female teenagers when a 24th entity starts to emerge. This character is played by a brilliant James McAvoy (who we recently talked about in the X-Men First Class review), who is able to create very recognisable personalities through his performance. During the majority of the movie, McAvoy wears different clothes for each personality, but when during the third act that device is left aside, his masterful acting is clearly displayed, as single lines are enough to identify the diverse characters inside Kevin’s head.
Unfortunately, he is joined by a quite poor cast, as out of the three of Kevin’s victims only one of them gives a decent performance. Anya Taylor-Joy is turning into a go-to young actress in horror films, and her work in Split indicates why. She has a compelling way of delivering lines as Casey, and her facial expressions are remarkable at times, especially when trying to disguise her fear. Her character’s two friends areas shallow as possible. They fall into the “dumb rich teen” cliche at every step due to the poorly written dialogue and nonexistent character progression, and their acting is mediocre at best.
It seems that the only requisite Shyamalan had for the three actresses was for them to be attractive. He has clearly forced some nudity that, even if not explicit, feels absolutely out of place. One of Kevin’s personalities is very tidy, so when he sees some stains in the girls’ shirts he makes them take them off. Many shots throughout the film were obviously composed to show Taylor-Joy’s cleavage as clearly as possible, too. I’m not refractory of nudity or seductiveness in movies, but in Split it truly seems the director forced those situations to have something compelling on screen, fearful of his own (lack of) ability to create interesting imagery.
The story starts in a very interesting way, but the script soon loses control. Cheesy flashbacks are used to give Casey a background that is meant to be thrilling yet falls flat due to its simplicity. Shyamalan fails at creating multi-dimensional characters, none of them seem to have any intrinsic or subtle characteristics. The plot is highly predictable too, and the twists and turns that the director has created don’t work at all, some because of they fail to be a surprise, others because they are just stupid. There is no thrill in the entire run-time, and the closest that it comes to being a horror film is a couple of cheap jump-scares that have been thrown in. “Psychological thriller” my ass. Damn, even the ending is completely anti-climatic!
When it comes to cinematography, Split doesn’t have all that much to offer at all. Packed with unimaginative shots and below-average use of lighting, it misses lots of opportunities to make use of the claustrophobic setting as a tool to make viewers feel uncomfortable. Instead, the maze-like corridors where most of the movie is located feel as interesting as an abandoned sewer: dull and made of concrete. Add an absent soundtrack to the mix and you end up with a piece of film-making that instead of being a joy to watch, feels more like a chore.
It’s dull, it’s dumb, it’s boring. The idea behind the story is undoubtedly cool, but Shyamalan isn’t able to transform that concept into a good movie. McAvoy alone may be able to make it worth the watch for some, but with all the problems that flood Split, it is hardly recommendable, I’m afraid. 3/10