By Laurie Coker
Night Shyamalan wowed us all with The Sixth Sense, amused us with Signs, and some will say impressed viewers with Unbreakable, but since then, he has failed to offer anything in the way of shock and awe in storytelling. His latest film, Split, starring James McAvoy, does little to improve his reputation. Were it not for McAvoy, Shyamalan’s film would lack any merit at all. Shyamalan, who wrote, directed and as typical, has a cameo appearance in Split, never manages to deliver horror or suspense.
From the onset, especially for those of us who watched a trailer, little is left to suspense. Three teen girls are kidnapped by a deranged man (McAvoy), who has multiple personalities – 23 at least. The girls, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) find themselves in a locked room, where they meet Dennis, Patricia, and Hedwig (all McAvoy) – distinct personalities embedded in Kevin Wendall Crumb a man, who as a child was abused by his mother. Blah, blah, blah – yawn. Shyamalan doesn’t seem to know what kind of film he wants Split to be. As a horror, it lacks the scare factor. As a suspense thriller, it never rises above “what?” and even though McAvoy is perfect and Taylor-Joy holds her own, the cast is B level at best. Ultimately, the story is predictable and frankly, asinine.
McAvoy manages to breathe strange and demented life into each of his assigned personalities, but and perhaps this is thankfully, we only get to meet a few of the twenty-three personas. One personality emails “their” psychiatrist for emergency sessions, while another covers for the events transpiring, behind locked doors and a third tries to help the girls. There are hints of a beast, a lost job, and a horrific past, but then Shyamalan builds a background for Casey, one that might have been used as a twist on one hand, but on the other, doesn’t play out well. I thought of at least two ways he could have made the storyline, climax and final reveal far more intriguing – ala The Sixth Sense.
To be fair, Shyamalan tries, but he promises more than he can deliver. Overt signs and stock suspense sequences make any genuine shock aspect totally transparent. Astute viewers know where the action takes place, who will die and how it all will end. Equally obvious is a possible variation on the ending that would have worked better – one that would have been more M. Night Shyamalanian of old.
Rated R for subject matter and violence, Split, for any other director, might have been a win, but expectations for Shyamalan run high and for that matter low. After films like The Happening, The Village and other less than entertaining ventures, Shyamalan need a hit. McAvoy and Taylor-Joy keep it afloat, but the overused kidnapped girls in distress and the nearly two hour run time make Split worth a C- at best. Maybe Shyamalan should consider a writing and direction collaboration for his next film.