After a worn-out shtick and a string of disappointments, Shyamalan is slowly redeeming himself. The once famed “Six Sense” director has come up with a movie that has garnered some attention mostly because of James McAvoy.
He delivers a hammy but interesting performance as Kevin with multiple personalities. He’s supported by breakout star Anya Taylor Joy who plays one of his victims and Betty Buckley as his therapist.
Fortunately, their talents are not wasted as Shyamalan returns to his roots after his failed stint as a director for hire. Split is executed well enough to deliver an engaging origins story.
The plot weaves in three perspectives that build a sense of mystery and destiny. Kevin’s multiple personalities wrestle for control, a few of which have hatched a plan for the three captives. One of them is repressed teen Casey, whose survival instincts tell of a troubled past. Meanwhile, dedicated therapist Dr. Fletcher tries to convince the scientific community of a medical breakthrough that borders on the supernatural.
Framing and set design help in making otherwise silly scenes into compelling moments. In one scene as Casey wakes up to find Patricia standing next to her bed holding a tray of food, the camera shows the turtleneck wearing alter looking down with a smile on his face. Amplified by the convincing performance of McAvoy, the moment is both funny and creepy at the same.
While these entertaining elements provide a redemptive turn for Shyamalan as a director, Split can’t hide the fact that it’s an exploitation flick.
Yes, the premise is unnerving enough – three teenage girls are locked up in a windowless room that’s opened once a while by a man with a different identity, all foretelling an impending demise from a mysterious figure that is yet to manifest from within. Once again, another horror movie posits that people with personality disorders will eventually become batshit crazy criminals.
Casey is notably an anti-final girl but her whole character is defined by abuse. Her lurid backstory leads to the conclusion that trauma makes her pure. The rest of the abducted girls are left with little clothes and little to do.
Split’s rote girls-in-peril story eventually trips over contrivances and cliches. The plot also drags in places because of exposition-heavy interludes.
Overall, the movie is salvaged by James McAvoy as he provides the necessary performance to elevate Split beyond its B-movie elements. The ending reveals a Marvel-esque twist, an improvement from Shyamalan’s gimmicky plot twist endings.
Split offers a lean dark approach to the origins story which can serve as a palate cleanser from superhero adaptations that are reduced to franchise platforms. To a certain extent, it takes a look at how the medical community can end up dismissing the mentally ill over scientific technicalities and the dynamics behind victimization. However, you’d have to get past its derivative and tasteless ideas.
Split is a serviceable thriller but it's driven by exploitative and derivative ideas.