Oh! Umm... Hi M. Night Shyamalan... Long time since you've been relevant...
Hello everyone, and welcome back! I've had a lovely break of watching the world not crumble into dust and reading depressing books about orphans, so I've had a fantastic time! 2017 is here, and like it or not, we need to strap ourselves in for one hell of a ride, cause let me be honest with you, the first movie I review of each year is usually a strong factor in whether or not the year is actually going to be a good one. Last year was kicked off with Norm of the North, a garbage movie for garbage people, and this year we have Split, an... interesting movie to say the least.
I'm not going to sit here and rag on the fact that I'm reviewing an M. Night Shyamalan movie, mostly because I genuinely do like his work to a point. Personally I feel like his original work is wholly his own and has a certain air to it that can't be replicated. I know when I'm watching a Shyamalan movie, for better or worse. He's a director that is honest to God trying to be good, but usually fails by trying to live up to his previous films. The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are good movies, but they've forced Shyamalan to try and outdo them, and each and every time has always been a failure. It wasn't until 2015 when he released The Visit that people started to pay attention to him again because he was making films that looked genuinely creepy. Shyamalan would be a perfect horror movie director, and Split just further supports that.
See, the thing with Split though is that unlike all of his other movies, your overall enjoyment will range on how much you enjoyed or understood the twist. Also, I'm not going to be spoiling Split, so you have nothing to worry about here, but the overall vibe I've been getting from people is that people adored it if they got the twist, or thought the movie was merely good if they didn't. Guess which camp I'm in.
Split is the story of three teenage girls that have been taken hostage by a bizarre and silent man named Kevin. Two of these girls are your standard bratty high school girls, while the third is the social outcast who is acutely aware of how much the world sucks. They're taken to a mysterious holding cell and have very little interaction with Kevin and try to escape. They see a woman on the other side of the door they're stuck in and get her to open the door... only for them to see that it's Kevin dressing as a woman. Kevin has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and has 23 active personalities inside of his mind. However, three of them have developed a religion about the coming of a 24th personality known as "The Beast", and he needs three young girls as a sacrifice to devour. So it's a ticking clock for the girls to escape and hopefully use Kevin's personalities against themselves.
Throwing away the fact that Split isn't even close to being scientifically accurate about DID (it's a horror movie, I can forgive not being correct about how multiple personality disorder works), the focus of the movie is placed right where it should be; Kevin and his personalities interacting with the three girls. They all try to escape in their own unique ways, and Kevin stops them all individually. I would talk about one of the girls in particular, but in a weird way, her story is barely relevant to the overall plot. Her name is Casey, and we frequently get flashbacks to her hunting with her dad and uncle, but it's never really made clear why this matters. By the end of the movie, the only real resolution it brings is muddied at best. We get why Casey is a loner and doesn't hang with other girls, but the impact of her backstory is more of an "oh... okay" moment than anything else.
But that's kind of fine because the female leads don't really matter all that much here. Like a good horror movie, Split instead focuses on its villain and how he hunts/attacks the girls. Kevin is a fascinating character with a lot of depth to him, especially when you start analyzing and dissecting each of his 23 personalities. There's a quiet man with OCD, a nine year old child, a religious woman, an educated historian, a fashion designer, and a teenage diabetic just to name a few, and that's not even getting into "The Beast" and his whole can of worms. But that leads me to the biggest problem with Split; it wastes its premise.
Right on the poster of the movie, we're told that Kevin has 23 personalities and even his psychiatrist starts to name all of his personalities and how they work together. But the movie spends nearly all of its runtime with three of them. The other 20 are thrown to the wayside like they don't even matter, and this isn't a matter of having false expectations. When you tout the fact that one actor is able to portray 23 different personalities in one role, that's damned impressive. In reality, most of the other personas have a line or two then are swiftly forgotten. Hell, if we include "The Beast" and the brief mention of the original Kevin minus DID personas, we only see and hear about eight personalities out of 25. That's not even a third. It's hard not to be a bit disappointed after thinking about that.
However, James McAvoy does a fantastic job regardless of my personal qualms. It's kind of amazing to see him swap between each personality at the drop of a hat, and I know exactly who is in control. One scene in particular has a personality in charge, but just be taking a breath and straightening his spine, I know exactly which personality is in charge. That's a testament for hos good of a performance this is, and when he has a chance to actually talk extensively as a personality, it's damned good.
In fact, it's the little things that make Split a good movie. You may think that I don't like Split, but again, I actually do enjoy it. What works works really well, and James McAvoy still does a great job, the scares are still good, and the tension is great when the girls are trying to escape. But of course, we must address the twist, because the twist does affect whether you will like the movie or not.
While I won't go into any details here, the twist is reliant on painting the rest of the movie in a different light. It makes the audience realize the the world is different from what we thought it was, and that either made people extremely excited, or people that just didn't care all that much. Make no mistake, Split is meant to have a sequel that address its twist, but for the now, for the me of 2017, I couldn't muster up any interest in it. In fact, I had to look up what the impact of the twist was because I kind of forgot why it was so significant. Once I realized the importance of it, I still couldn't really care about it.
It's not that the twist is bad, because the signs are there, but it's so reliant on being aware of the world and the characters it references that it loses what makes it special. It undermines the premise of Split by lessening its ending and the struggle that the girls went through. It paints the entire movie in a much smaller light than it already was. I wish I could say exactly what I'm talking about, but instead of making the world larger, it instead made the world of the movie smaller. An established universe is made, but it undermines Split as its own entity.
Split may have been conflicting for me, but I fully acknowledge a good movie when I see it. The story is solid, the performances are good, and it's a return to form for Shyamalan. It's one of his best movies, even though that isn't saying much. I would much rather take a conflicting movie that has good elements in it than a movie that's just plain boring. Split isn't boring at all, it's just not my cup of tea. I'll drink it, but it wouldn't be the first thing I drink.