SPLIT Review: 8 out of 10 (Another bad Shyamalan movie? PSYCH!)
SPLIT is the latest film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film stars James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley. Though I am a personal fan of the early work of MNS, the last several projects have been real misfires. THE VISIT was one of the worst films of 2015, and though he hadn't written many of these failed projects, the bulk of his filmmaking has seen more bad than good. But for any fan of UNBREAKABLE or THE SIXTH SENSE or even SIGNS...hope remains.
In SPLIT the film tells the story of three girls who are kidnapped in broad daylight: friends Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), and difficult outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). Their captor Kevin (James McAvoy) locks the trio up, and soon after begins to exhibit 23 alternate personalities. For the girls to escape, they realize they must convince one of the personalities within him to set them free. Betty Buckley plays Dr. Fletcher--a psychiatrist who has made Kevin her case study for multiple personalities. She Skypes at conferences and speaks with cohorts, mostly all to inform the audience more about Kevin and some of his more extreme personalities and the power that (potentially) comes along with it. The idea that each personality expresses can offer different physical gestures, albeit allergies, physical strength, emotional fears, is manifested in the performance of James McAvoy. His strong performance from a child to an elderly woman to a fastidious man, and on and on is at the center of this thriller. It is a fascinating watch. At the same time, the view of these three young women, terrified and in peril, is nearly exploitive. Their bodies are on display, helpless in captivity. But Casey is different. We see her own story in flashback, understanding more of what drives her and her quiet strength and determination to survive.
As the film reaches its climax, it does necessarily have a few moments that strain against the logic of the viewer. Characters make bad decisions to drive the plot (show me a psychological thriller where they don't), and the film seems to lose some of its brisk pacing in the final reel. But there are some legitimate moments of terror and some real payoffs that the movie makes in the evolution of Kevin and his "horde" of personalities. However, what will leave people talking is the final scene in the film. Without saying too much here, I will only offer that it sets a larger scene and makes some of the film's implausible moments far more plausible. If this is what we can expect from future projects from MNS, sign me up. Though there has been some criticism from the mental health community about the film's treatment of mental illness, I think the movie counters that with enough psychobabble to suspend disbelief. This is a thriller, not a docudrama.
SPLIT doesn't quite match the early films of Shyamalan, but it comes close. They say you got to walk before you can run. No question after seeing SPLIT that MNS has his legs underneath him.