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Split – Movie Review

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Split – Movie Review

Rating: C (Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

M. Night Shyamalan’s recent career path of financing low-budget films out of his own pocket is a noble effort to show his skills outside of the studio system. The films themselves, however, have been disappointing experiments that alternate between occasional moments of tension, unsuccessful attempts at humour and ridiculous revelations. Split opts to show a clearly exaggerated type of multiple personality disorder and one imagines those with similar afflictions will not take too kindly to its portrayal here, which borders on utter fantasy. The suspension of disbelief required here is massive and it’s further derailed by its lead actor’s showy performance.

The best scenes in Split involve the three girls trapped in this secret enclosure. Led by Anya Taylor-Joy, who made a strong impression in last year’s The Witch, there is plenty of sympathy towards them and their need to escape. Shyamalan creates real tension during a number of escape attempts. However, the girls somehow don’t take enough advantage during the points where their captor is most vulnerable. Shyamalan does effectively portray the small space they find themselves in. Production designer Mara LePere-Schloop manages to fill the few sets available with a number of elements which say a lot about James McAvoy’s many personalities.

McAvoy overdoes the role, going needlessly over the top, when a more subtle approach would have been better and more creepy. Shyamalan laces the screenplay with bits of intentional humour, which only proves that comedy is not his strong suit. The comedy is not quite as excessive as in The Visit, but it’s still awkwardly written. Shyamalan’s usual cameo proves to be particularly distracting. Betty Buckley’s role as a physiatrist is only important for expositional purposes. The character is flatly written and takes time away from the girls. A number of flashbacks are shown throughout the film to flesh out Taylor-Joy’s Casey and this similarly feels like padding.

It’s understandable why Shyamalan felt the need to include these flashbacks, but they interrupt the flow of the narrative and could have been its own separate film, if he was so inclined. This story is one that probably only fills about an hour of runtime and these added elements just pump it up to an overly long two hours. The twist is one of Shyamalan’s most absurd yet, which he piles on and on until one wishes the end credits would just roll. It stretches believability and only creates more questions as to how McAvoy could get away with his crimes.

Most disturbing of all is how Split portrays dissociative identity disorder, which the film identifies by name. It is possible M. Night Shyamalan did some research on DID, but he mostly opts for depicting those with it as having some sort of super power. So much time is wasted on outside locations and showing McAvoy in the world, when merely the enclosed location would have been enough. The whole notion of being trapped in a place that seemingly has no exit while a psychopath lurks around is creepy enough. One can understand why Shyamalan found inspiration with this idea, but he puts too many ingredients in the stew rather than keeping it simple and minimalist.


Stefan Ellison

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