"Split" is directed by M. Night Shyamalan and it's about three girls who are kidnapped by a man named Kevin who has dissociative identity disorder. Kevin has 23 three different personalities and they all play a part in unleashing some sort of new manifestation for Kevin and this is obviously something that spells some serious trouble for his three victims.
After 2015's "The Visit", I slowly began to open up my mind to the possibility of a comeback for M. Night Shyamalan. God knows all of the horrible movies he's created in the past after many were ready to hail him as the next Spielberg. And while I enjoyed "The Visit" for what it was, I was still partial in thinking it might have been a fluke. Is Shyamalan still burned out? Did he just get lucky? Is he still capable of making a legitimately good film? And after thinking really long and hard about "Split", the answers to those questions are as follows: Yes, yes, and probably not.
I have quite a few problems with this movie, but I want to start this review off with some praise, and that goes towards the acting. James McAvoy plays the role of Kevin, but his performance is obviously a lot more than just playing one person. He has to take on the role of several different personalities and in my opinion, he pulls it off perfectly. With these varying personas, he's able to successfully convey what makes them so unique. He's creepy when he needs to be, he's mysterious when necessary, and he's even sympathetic in some key scenes. His scenes overall were what made this movie entertaining in certain moments, I just wish there was more of them, but more on that later.
Anya Taylor-Joy stars as the main girl who has been kidnapped by Kevin and she was also very good in her role. Her character alone has some mysterious things about her past that are slowly unraveled as the movie plays out, and I think she's worthy of praise for being able to convey that mystery behind the character while also just doing a good job as the helpless teenager who's stuck in a bad situation. Yeah, the supporting girls are also good with what they're given, but the acting showcase ultimately comes down to Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy and they both shine in their respective roles.
Where the movie falters, though, is in the narrative. Despite having just praise Taylor-Joy, I do have some criticisms directed towards her character's arc. Throughout the movie, we see some flashbacks having to do with her past and I understood their intent and purpose, but it still felt choppy from a storytelling perspective. These random cuts to previous events got in the way of some really interesting stuff going on with Kevin's character and that really rubbed me the wrong way.
Also, I just didn't care for the subplot involving Kevin's psychologist, played by Betty Buckley. Her whole purpose it to basically examine Kevin and try to explain an evolutionary purpose for Kevin's multiple personalities. That sounds interesting enough, but the problem for me was that the science behind it was completely screwed up. I've done my fair share of research on the biological process of evolution and while I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, I know for damn sure that the power of belief doesn't play a part in it. That's right, this movie tries to convince the audience that simply believing in multiple personalities and their abilities automatically puts you at some evolutionary advantage, which is a flimsy argument at best. When certain dinosaurs evolved into a class of birds, they didn't do it simply because they believed it could happen. They did it because they had to undergo genetic mutations within their biological system so as to adapt to their constantly changing environment. Sorry, Shyamalan, but you can't just make up your own science and expect people to look past it.
And now we're getting to the part of the movie that really pissed me off, but it involves a spoiler, so here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to put up the spoiler warning and go into full detail as to why the end of this movie enraged me as much as it did. There's your spoiler warning, so be warned about venturing further.
At the very end of this movie when Anya Taylor-Joy is rescued and Kevin escapes after having undergone some physical transformation that made him into "the Beast", it's revealed that this movie is actually set in the same universe as one of Shyamalan's earlier films, "Unbreakable". Now I really love that movie. It's actually one of my favorite Shyamalan movies, but it's inclusion into "Split" felt so last minute. You have Bruce Willis' character, David Dunn, sitting at a diner while he watches news coverage of "the Beast" and now we're lead to believe that this is the start of a new cinematic universe. This twist pissed me off because of how assuming it was. This movie assumes that you've seen "Unbreakable" already and it just uses that movie as an excuse to have shitty science and poor storytelling leading up to the end twist. I don't care if this is setting up for a new universe. This movie had a poor narrative structure throughout most of it and it's not getting a pass on that just because it makes reference to a previous movie that I love.
All of that said, "Split" is a movie that really underwhelmed me. I heard a lot of good buzz from its early screenings at film festivals, but I walked out having only praise for the acting and some moments of entertainment involving Kevin's multiple personalities. The rest of the movie is uneven, poorly written, and even boring at times. I'm honestly getting tired of Shyamalan at this point and I don't even know if I want to put up with more of his planned future releases.