NOTE: From now on, I will be posting a picture with my reviews depicting how I feel about the movie I am reviewing
Split is produced, written, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and is about a man with dissociative identity disorder (DID) played by James McAvoy who kidnaps three teenage girls so he can unleash one of his personalities known as “the Beast” on them.
Given the “generally positive” reception of Split, I was cautiously optimistic to see it because Shyamalan never gets those kinds of reviews. Normally, his movies are lambasted by audiences and critics. Now that Shyamalan has made a slightly better movie than something like The Last Airbender, everyone is grading Split on a curve. Split is just like any other Shyamalan movie of the last 13 years-boring, poorly written, and terribly acted.
Before I bash this movie like it’s the worst thing I have seen since the Ghostbusters remake, I have one praise for Split, and that is James McAvoy as Kevin. He did a fantastic job portraying a man with two dozen different personalities, even though we only see five of them on screen. You believe he has all of these people living inside his head. In a couple of scenes, McAvoy goes from acting like Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy, to Dennis, a neat freak, seamlessly. His performance is an enigma because he never acts like himself; you could believe McAvoy has DID himself. If only everyone else put on a good performance in Split.
The only other actors who get any sizable amount of screen time are the three teenage girls who Kevin abducts, Casey, Claire, and Marcia and his therapist, Dr. Fletcher. The only one of these four actress who is any good at all is Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Casey. She exhibits pure terror as Kevin torments her and her classmates who are abducted with her, as well as small signs of post-trauma of abuse at the hands of her uncle. Unfortunately, this aspect of her character is not explored with any depth, only in brief, random flashbacks to her childhood as her father and uncle try to teach her to use a shotgun. What Casey feels as she has these flashbacks is never visible in Taylor-Joy’s acting. She goes back to her childhood, and the movie returns to her blank face. Most of the time, Casey has an empty expression, a classic Shyamalan trope. The film even opens with her looking in the general direction of the camera, sitting apart from everyone at a party in a restaurant she was invited to, with an empty face and it lingers on her for a solid minute. It’s perfect because the movie tells you how you’re gonna feel throughout the entire runtime in the first minute-bored, blank-faced, and disconnected from everything you see on the screen.
Claire, played by Haley Lu Richardson, gets the worst dialogue in the entire movie. Lazily-written lines such as, “We have to get out of here,” “We’re gonna be OK,” and “What the hell is happening,” come off her terrible child acting and worse directing. Marcia, played by Jessica Sula, is not much better. Her best acting is only heard, not seen, as Dennis tries to make her strip and dance for him behind a closed door. She is screaming and crying as if she was being raped, but the scene is ruined when she makes Dennis stop by peeing herself. I know Dennis is supposed to be a neat freak, but writing a character to stop someone from removing their clothes like that is something a child would write. Finally, Dr. Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley, might as well be in a different movie. Her acting is mediocre at best, made worse by Shyamalan’s awkward extreme close-ups. Buckley’s character is interacting with Barry, one of Kevin’s personalities, and telling people that those with DID are the “key to the unknown.” None of what Fletcher says or does outside of her sessions with Kevin makes any impact on the story. You know what that kind of scenes those are? Unnecessary, so they could have taken them out of the movie and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Let’s talk about Kevin’s plan. It makes no sense. He kidnaps the three girls because they are “impure.” What he means is that they have never known pain or heartbreak. Kevin uses the Beast, an entity possessing superhuman strength, agility, speed, and durability, to kill anyone he deems as “impure.” But…WHY? If he wants them to feel incredible pain like he has, why doesn’t he keep his victims alive longer by torturing them and waiting to finish them off instead of keeping them in separate rooms without an article of clothing? Nope, he just devours Claire and Marcia when we first see him turn into the Beast without any form of torture or humiliation preceding their deaths. The Beast tries to kill Casey, but when he sees multiple scars on her abdomen, he spares her…
Wait. Dennis made Claire take off her shirt and told Marcia to remove her pants, but Casey started out with a jacket and two shirts. Dennis did tell her to remove her jacket and her first shirt, but Casey’s last shirt was ripped off in the finale. How convenient that her scars were not visible until the very end after two hours of boredom, wooden acting, a stale plot, and a marathon of Shyalaman-isms? If Kevin had seen Casey’s scars sooner, this movie would have been a lot shorter and that much less painful to sit through.
For a movie with the premise Split has, it is is surprisingly boring. None of the characters are ever given enough development to make the audience care. Claire even tells Marcia and her dad that she had Casey at her birthday party in the beginning just because she invited everyone else in her class and didn’t want to leave anyone out, even though neither of the two girls like Casey. Why should anyone care about Claire and Marcia? They don’t think anything of Casey other than an outsider. Some people will empathize with Casey because she was abused by her uncle after her father died, but what is the point of feeling anything when her life is in danger? Even when the Beast is chasing her in a maintenance tunnel at the end, I was bored. An exact thought was, “I don’t care if this girl dies. I hardly know anything about her and I have no reason to like her.” When you don’t care about the characters, there is no tension or reason to be invested in the story. When that aspect of your movie fails, you fail as a director and a storyteller. Even Kevin’s backstory is rushed and unclear. As far as the audience is concerned, he’s a bloodthirsty psychopath. When has that ever warranted sympathy from anyone?
In the end, Split masquerades as a thriller when all it is is yet another awful two-hour Shyalaman slog fest packed to the brim with his signature style of actors devoid of emotion, bad writing, terrible pacing, and atrocious directing. Never see Split, or any Shyamalan movie for that matter, other than The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable.
Split gets a D-
“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”-Alfred Hitchcock. I guess that’s Shyamalan’s goal as a director-to see how much suffering audiences are willing to put up with.
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