Split (2017) Review:
Half Good/Half Bad
After you’ve been called the Spielberg of a new generation, it’s hard not to fall below expectations. Still, M. Night Shyamalan fell pretty far. ‘Split’ aims to be a return to form for the once celebrated director. A genuinely interesting concept. It’s about a killer who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. Inside one body contains 23 distinct personalities. All played by Professor X himself, James MacAvoy.
That’s what the movie promises, but really you only meet about 4 or 5. Each of which MacAvoy plays with an enormous amount of giddiness. Truly he seems to be having the time of his life. Because what more could you ask for as an actor. He gets to play with distinctly different characters, each with their own accents and mannerisms. No way does this film work without MacAvoy’s charisma and skill.
The part that doesn’t work is the film’s science. The best horror movies tread this line carefully. It wants to tap into a kind of general fear that people have, and expound on it. Still, the film has to have some semblance of credibility. Otherwise, nothing resonates. It becomes so mired in fantasy that it’s as scary as the big bad wolf. The film raised interesting questions about what was real or not. Then it turned into a cartoon.
The third act takes a film that skirted the line carefully and knocks it over with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. So much so that scenes intended to frighten evoked jeers and jokes. It’s impossible to take it seriously. That’s only a problem because the movie doesn’t seem to be in on its own joke. ‘Split’ insults its audience’s intelligence by masking its stupidity as cleverness.
It’s so frustrating because I know there’s a director that cares behind the camera. One scene involves a parody level stack of boxes. All unopened. All seemingly recently delivered. It’s not a key part of the film, but it’s something that stands out, if only as a distraction. In the same scene, a character is shown to be an impulsive home shopper, giving satisfaction to my gnawing curiosity about the mountainous pile of unopened packages sitting by the front door. This is just one of multiple moments in the film where Shyamalan rewards a keen attention to detail.
Even throughout the frustration, ‘Split’ is a fun movie. MacAvoy’s unpredictability lends itself to the movie’s most chilling moments. While I wouldn’t call it a return to greatness, ‘Split’ is definitely one of the better in Shyamalan’s repertoire. It’s especially rewarding for people who have stuck with Shyamalan throughout the good and the bad. In fact, I would say, if you’ve seen Shyamalan’s work, the movie is exponentially better as a result.
I did enjoy ‘Split’ in its first two acts, and the third act, while a departure from the movie it could’ve been had an unintentional humour to it. I suppose that salvaged it for me. Still, I wish I could’ve seen a film of this subject matter taken a bit more seriously. It’s not the 80s anymore. Movies should be smarter than this.
Rating: Half Price