By: Muneeb Arshid
So, one of your identities kidnaps three girls from a shopping mall and keeps them hostage in an underground bunker. The other identities are now conflicted on how to deal with these ladies. WHAT A CONUNDRUM EH!
Well, that’s what James McAvoy is having to deal with; 23 different identities all raging up a plan on what to do with these girls. The man is Kevin Wendell Crumb who has severe Dissociative Identity Disorder and thus the 23 different identities raging away for control of Kevin’s mind.
The film is essentially about the power struggle between two of the main identities, Dennis and Patricia, who are in dispute as to what to do with the kidnapped women. This power struggle of identities is quite important for his psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) who starts to realize that the once dominant Barry has now been overthrown which is a case of concern. However, I would argue that her own education about the topic might be more a case of concern than anything else she should be worried about.
Split is, of course, directed by well-renowned “twister” of films, M. Night Shyamalan, who to say the least, has had a very up-and-down career. His early movies such as Signs, Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense were strong, well-directed films especially being in the genre in which Shyamalan was trying to build a base. Then came the 2000s and 2010s where he made films such as Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender and the great, charismatic feature that was After Earth, where he not only lost his way but also alienated fans and critics because of his earlier success and the fact that people demanded better from a promising director.
So, what about the film itself? Has Shyamalan redeemed himself? Well, slightly. Is Split on the level of his earlier films? Absolutely not! Is it better than some of the bilge that he’s produced recently barring The Visit, sure! However, it’s not much to celebrate as the film fails to captivate because of the weird tone that Shyamalan has chosen for the film.
The tone issues are related to the main character of James McAvoy who is at another level when it comes to campiness. Yes, it is a wonderful performance, it has to be; to be able to showcase at least 9 of the 23 identities is quite a big deal and does so quite convincingly. Did I take it seriously? Absolutely not! There were times where I couldn’t help but snigger at the fact that this was happening on screen and that either McAvoy or Shyamalan had approved it.
So, a satisfactory performance from McAvoy. What about the rest of the cast? Well, Nope! The only other good thing about this movie is the bleak performance by Anya Taylor-Joy, who follows up her performance in The Witch with a very outstanding performance as one of the young teens who is abducted but has more to her back story than is given. The tone shift is so apparent to a sense where she has this stoic quality whenever she is confronted by the peppy McAvoy and one of his identities.
Her co-kidnapped-stars are not very good, on the otherhand. Haley Lu Richardson, who was great in The Edge of Seventeen is just a whiny teen especially when compared to Taylor-Joy’s Casey, who can’t seem to handle the smallest of things and has a tendency to half-yell, half-cry all her responses. The third teen is Marcia (Jessica Sula) who for just being some type of eye-candy being paraded around in her underwear, could have been cut out of the film and none would have been the wiser.
Oh, and please don’t get me started on Kevin’s psychiatrist. Yes, she seems competent enough to figure out when the supposed dominant identity of Barry has been superseded but apart from that, she spends the entire time wondering/teaching/learning/expositing what Kevin’s identity disorder actually was and wondering aloud whether he even had it or not. She’s supposed to be the professional, yet has no clue how to identify something in which she is the expert.
There is credence to be given to the final 30 minutes of the film, where the B-movie style thriller ride ramps up to a level that leaves you wondering why we never got any of this earlier. The intensity of the final 30 minutes had me hooked which was definitely a plus.
All in all, many more audiences will enjoy and even like Split much more than The Visit and definitely more than the shoddy filmmaking that was on display prior to these two films. However, it is still not on the level of Shyamalan’s earlier films where the work was of such higher quality and enjoyment. We’ll just have to wait and see if this upward progression continues with Shyamalan’s future ventures.
The Film Lawyers present Split with a grade of C- (5.8/10).