The last M. Night Shyamalan film that impressed me, directed or produced by the guy, was Devil. A tightly packed, well-paced thriller that traps five people in a lift and one of them is the devil. A simple premise that boasted solid performances, a neat idea and some excellent moments of teeth-gritting terror and an epic twist ending. Before and after Devil, Shyamalan has released some bad films, from After Earth to The Last Airbender, and the promise filled yet disappointing thriller The Visit. Split is being hailed as the director's return to form, and an overall thrilling feature with great performances. I agree with one of those statements.
The performances in Split are phenomenal, particular James McAvoy and Anya-Taylor Joy, with Betty Buckley serving up an absolutely convincing and confident performance as a psychiatrist dealing with McAvoy's troubled man who has a staggering 23 different personalities, and the ones we see are each unique and thrilling to watch unfold thanks to McAvoy's incredible balance, range and creativity. He gives each of his personalities a variety of humorous little quips, facial ticks, bodily expressions whilst keeping a consistent amount of menace across each of them, solidifying this performance which could've gone horribly wrong but McAvoy is a dependable actor.
Anya Taylor-Joy is, yet again, fantastic. After her incredible performance in The VVitch, she once agin proves a talent to watch as she portrays a lonely girl with a very troubled past who is actually quite the survival expert and the fighter. When her and her friends are kidnapped by McAvoy's Kevin, her character Casey doesn't resort to a screaming victim. She's resourceful, clever with her timing and attempts to manipulate Kevin, and Anya Taylor-Joy is so calm and effortless in the role, she almost threatens to outshine McAvoy's seasoned performance. I can't wait to see more of what this actress can do!
As for all the other aspects of Split, there's not much that impressed me. The cinematography is remarkably basic, with very little wow shots or interesting angles. Some could argue that because of the film's tight setting, there's not an awful lot you can do in regards to camera angles, but look at films like Buried and The Disappearance of Alice Creed, each of those films had even smaller settings than this film does and still managed to wring out some impressive tight shots, dizzying panning shots and creative slow push-ins to build tension. Split does feature Shyamalan's signature facial close-ups, I love how close he gets to his actors. Even the colour palette doesn't add any sort of mood or atmosphere, it's just very bland. I feel a dirtier, messier colour a la Children of Men or even darker like Dawn of Justice would've made the environment and Kevin's psyche seem more evil and twisted.
However, I must praise the opening. In a single shot, Casey as a character is given so much depth with no exposition or dialogue, as she sits in the corner, alone and looking uncertain, at a friends party. Her friends, shortly after, state how they felt they had to invite her to their party, and things get even better when Casey's friends' father take them to his car, and as he puts the presents in the boot, Casey is alerted to see them all scattered across the car park. Next minute, she turns so slowly, edging to see McAvoy's Kevin sat in the drivers seat as he knocks out Casey's friends. The incredible slow movements, total uncertainty of this scenes outcome and Taylor-Joy's look of worry is a real suspenseful way of opening the film.
The flashbacks to Casey's childhood I also really liked, but the nature of her childhood is seriously messed up, as you find out where she got her strength and fight from, but also why she is the way she is. Yet Split struggles to stay tense and compelling, there's only so much you can take of watching Kevin swap from Hedwig to his female personality, the swapping back and forth becomes tedious and there's no real progression until he unleashes The Beast, an animalistic 24th personality that's as strong as iron and unstoppable.
Spoiler alert time: Betty Buckley's character gets a nasty death, as she is strangulated and her body is cracked, which is a surprisingly brutal moment from a Shyamalan flick. However, the deaths of Casey's friends don't have heft because of a lack of character development, and the camera shies away from the grisly detail. What's worse, the outcome of why The Beast doesn't kill Casey is because she is troubled, she is pure and that's an exceptional feature of a human being, so he leaves her. She is then rescued and it is revealed Kevin lives underneath a Zoo. This film expects me to then remember the awful Shyamalan flick Unbreakable, as Bruce Willis makes a cameo, revealing Split is set in the same universe as that film. I was taken by surprise but then surprise soon fizzled out, as I felt Shyamalan could've added a much more hard-hitting twist or left us on a cliffhanger that doesn't just cater to fans of Unbreakable. The majority of people in the cinema exclaimed "What?" right at the ending.
This is so frustrating. What starts off a solid and rather intriguing thriller with weird character traits soon descends into a dull and repetitive film with a lacklustre final act, an unsatisfying outcome for its main characters and a twist ending that really doesn't do much apart from make you gasp and think, "Why is Bruce Willis in this...oh wait is this linked to Unbreakable?". This isn't a rubbish film, it's just very average and doesn't live up to the critical praise it's receiving, though Shyamalan has done worse. Rating: 5/10