There are often two camps of people when it comes to M. Night Shyamalan. The first is the type that looks to his early works in wonder and always walks into his films with an open mind; then there is the other type whose memory is still swimming with thoughts of “The Last Airbender” and “The Happening,” and only witnesses his films for the same reason one cannot take their eyes off of a car crash.
I am a proud member of the former group, which is why the last few years have been quite pleasant when it came to the king of twists. Since his previous film, “The Visit,” Shyamalan has been on an upswing, a resurgence of quality within his films that nobody can deny, and while “Split” is still far from the level of “The Sixth Sense” or “Unbreakable,” it is still a step forward for old M. Night.
The performances, primarily from James McAvoy, are the highlight of the film. McAvoy, who has never truly blown me away with a performance, devours the screen as Kevin, a man who has 24 separate identities dancing through his mind. His performance is chilling thanks to his range. While the film doesn’t get to every single one of his personalities, each of the ones we do get to witness feel like a completely different character from the others. While they still look like James McAvoy, there is no mistaking one for the other. The leading actress, Anya Taylor-Joy, who was so good in last year’s “The Witch,” plays her part with a quiet intensity, harkening back to the tone of Shyamalan’s early films.
It is a shame, however, that the writing is not as outstanding as the performances. Writing is a problem that has plagued Shyamalan’s films since the start of his career; it often gets him in trouble. He crafts stories with such high-reaching ambitions that it is almost impossible to hit the mark once he begins to capture it on camera. He also struggles with writing engaging dialogue, which is what “Split” severely lacked. Besides the performances, there was little to keep my attention, as the dialogue was only significant enough to keep the story moving.
“Split’s” major twist ending, as is custom within all of Shyamalan’s oeuvre, is one that only those familiar with Shyamalan’s previous works will appreciate, and it is a shame. The ending is a bit of a double-edged sword as it will either confuse the audience or overshadow everything that was shown previously. I am in the latter camp; however, if you are familiar with many of Shyamalan’s earlier films, I suggest you take a look at “Split.” The final seconds are well worth the prior lackluster hour and a half.
2 out of 5