The second carriage on M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback train isn’t as sturdy or joyful a trip as last year’s “The Visit”, but the intriguing concept and a winning performance from James McAvoy save Shyamalan from being tossed back into the studio backlist.
Where “The Visit” worked but “Split” doesn’t is in the latter’s irresolute tug-of-war tones. Seemingly out to please both the horror movie buff and studio number crunchers, his script weaves uneasily between unique Cronenberg-esque psychological thriller and ridiculous paint-by-numbers studio monster movie. Neither film wins over the over, they just co-exist, resulting in something fun but forgettable.
As a horror fan, “Split” embodies the type of creepy premise that, with better execution, would have chilled me to the core. It’s a bit like a maze that’s forgotten to plot itself a good exit – bringing in back stories that really should be left out, and a climax that’ll ultimately leave one’s head full of more scratches than answers.
The film centres around Kevin (played by James McAvoy), a seemingly capable but medically rather-unwell chap that switches between 23 different personalities. Early in, Kevin – or whichever personality he embodied at the time – kidnaps three teenage girls and takes them hostage. It’s up to the three girls to escape the prison they’ve found themselves in, even if it means subtly manipulating each of the personalities playing host.
Much like its title character, “Split” begins strong but becomes awkwardly more unstable and unsure of itself, undoing the good that’s come before, the more time passes.
Shyamalan, the master of the ‘surprise reveal’, always had an issue pulling back, not allowing a film to organically wash itself over viewers without manipulative gimmicks and twists, and he slips back into his old habits here by throwing in a “sink and all” third act that’s as mad as the monster he produces. Shyamalan’s mistake is developing too many storylines, which become hard to follow and often don’t add anything to the film.
On the plus side, the always-depending McAvoy is a stand out, with each of Kevin’s personalities expertly portrayed and unique. Just a pity the lines he’s given to scare us, spur smirks and smiles instead.